Grade Incentives

Should Kids Get Paid for Grades?

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Apr 1, 2014    •    1494 Views

What happens when you combine a $100 student payment with a teacher bonus for high A.P. grades, better lab equipment, free tutoring, Saturday classes and extra teacher training?

At one Boston school, the results for the A.P. Statistics exam were:

  • A surge in enrollment from 12 in 2008 to 61 in 2010.
  • A grade of 3 or more for 70% of the class including 31 low-income students.
  • A grade of 5 for 25% of the class whereas worldwide, 13% of all students taking the A.P. stat test got the highest grade.
  • A $7300.00 cash bonus for the teacher.

And now, at 3 high schools in the Washington D.C. area, a similar program had similar results. At Stafford High, the number of AP exams went from 543 to 1113, an increase of 105%. For a passing English, Math or Science AP grade (what about econ???) a student and his or her teacher each received $100. Funded with private and public dollars, the program paid a total of $90,800 to students and $145,370 to teachers.

Paying kids for grades is controversial and not all of us agree that it works. In a recent paper, Freakonomics economist (University of Chicago) Steven Levitt and other scholars concluded that kids’ response to grade incentives varies considerably. It all depends on the child’s age and sex, whether the award is financial or non-material, delayed or immediate, and if is is “framed” as a gain or a loss. Looking to the future, they concluded that behavioral economics and education could have a fruitful relationship.

I wonder whether monetizing educational achievement takes us to the benefits of a capitalist approach or its limitations.

Sources and resources: If you put together the articles in the Washington Post and the NY Times with academia and then look at the website of a sponsoring organization, the dilemmas of paying for grades in the short and long term become increasingly evident.



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