Monday, September 1, 2008

Incentives and Progress?

a notebook on education

…and then the announcement in late August that “DC tries Cash as a Motivator in School” further extended the visibility and debate about the role of monetary incentives in the education of young African Americans. Similar to in New York City, school officials in D.C. announced that they would implement a version of Roland Fryer’s program of utilizing cash rewards to improve academic performance of students.

On the one hand, critics of Fryer’s program argue that giving children money for performing well in school sends the wrong message to the young people, and the program does not adequately address other important factors that contribute to struggling students and schools.

On the other hand, those who support the program point out that the children of wealthy parents and school districts have long received incentives—cash and otherwise—for doing well in school. Therefore, supporters of the program explain, providing students from impoverished environments with more immediate rewards for high achievement could serve as a necessary motivation for their success.

For his part, Fryer has explained that the program has received mostly positive reactions from teachers, students, and parents in the 62 NYC schools where the program has been implemented so far. He maintains, however, that an even more accurate measure of the program’s effects on student achievement will emerge in October when he and his staff complete data collection and release a detailed report on the program.

What do you think? How might cash rewards benefit or harm student achievement? And beyond immediate results that the program might have on students in DC and New York, how might the discussion of incentives alter the conversations about education for large numbers of African Americans and students from struggling school environments?


M said...

I think it's important to note that providing cash rewards for academic performance might be as important an incentive for the parents living in less affluent communities as I believe it will be for the kids. I'm sure many of the households depend on all family members, kids included, to contribute whatever resources they are able to, even if it means a kid missing a few days of school to pick up a few extra dollars baby-sitting (as I did) or other odd jobs, so the family can afford to eat that week.

I wonder if the opponents to this project would revise their position if it came to light that many poorer families might require that extra short-term incentive to realize the long-term benefits of sending their sons and daughters to school.

Starry Starry Fight #88 said...

M. raises a great point that many of these students have a responsibility to help provide for their families, so the money they earn at school benefits everyone. Yes, the money could show the whole family the benefits of that can be earned when a person takes an active role in getting education.

On the other hand, I can't help but worry that once these students become reliant on this income, they will be more likely to go straight to work after high school so they can continue to make money. The way I see it, these students are getting *immediate* monetary results from their education, and I am afraid this just keeps them in the vicious cycle of letting money control their decisions.

Also, these students will not see immediate monetary results once they do get to college. Will they still succeed when they are thrown into a system which asks them to think for free?

I think we need to find a better system, a system which shows the students the benefits of being deep thinking individuals. You know, show them that education can be personally and emotionally rewarding.

Um, does anyone know how to create this system?

Anonymous said...

High performing students at top schools already receive immediate rewards. Score high enough on the ACT, and you get free tuition to college. Score even higher, and you get a free laptop as well.

Students at elite middle schools and high schools receive tremendous benefits and rewards too. Their support systems and environments have figured out how to make education work for the students.

What fascinates me about Fryer's program is that it attempts to make education work in similar ways for students of color and those from impoverished environments. In the past, folks have, somehow, excepted those groups to do what those other groups have done, but for far less rewards.

I'll look forward to seeing the results when they are released in order to gain a clearer perspective.