Capitalist education? Kids get better grades if you pay for them

Paul Raven @ 10-06-2009

Here’s your second “well, duh” story of the day – experiments in New York schools that serve high-poverty demographics indicate that offering kids financial rewards for good grades makes their average results skyrocket.

About two-thirds of the 59 high-poverty schools in the Sparks program — which pays seventh-graders up to $500 and fourth-graders as much as $250 for their performance on a total of 10 assessments — improved their scores since last year’s state tests by margins above the citywide average.

The gains at some schools approached 40 percentage points.

For example, at PS 188 on the Lower East Side, 76 percent of fourth-graders met or exceeded state benchmarks in English — 39.6 percentage points higher than last year, when the kids were in third grade.

At MS 343 in The Bronx, 94 percent of seventh-graders met or surpassed state standards in math this year — 37.3 points higher than last year, when the students were sixth-graders.

In all, of the 61 fourth and seventh grades involved in the pupil-pay program, only 16 improved less than the citywide average gain in math since last year, while 21 did so in reading.

Principals at the highest-scoring schools cautioned that the Sparks program was just one of many factors in the test-score jumps.

But many reported seeing indisputable academic benefits — including more motivation, better focus and an increase in healthy competition for good grades among students.

Now, there’s probably an argument to be made about the sanctity of education and the corruption of kids with money here, but I’m not sure it holds much water beyond staff-rooms. What matters in education is results, right? If you can get kids who are otherwise completely unmotivated to put some effort into learning and bettering their prospects, where’s the problem with spending some cash to do it?

You might say that education should be pitched as being its own reward, and that’s a charming philosophy familiar to me from my privileged middle-class background, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that system evidently isn’t working well among those who most need it. And hey - if you’re preparing kids for entry into a capitalist economy where making money is a tangible and observable benefit by comparison to the more nebulous notion of “bettering oneself intellectually”, why not use money as the carrot at the end of the stick? When idealism has failed, maybe pragmatism deserves a a crack of the whip. [via SlashDot]

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3 Responses to “Capitalist education? Kids get better grades if you pay for them”

  1. Mostromundo says:

    I wonder how much of the improvement in grades was due to increased efforts at cheating?

  2. Babylon says:

    knowing how to cheat well is a valuable skill.

  3. cooper says:

    I agree – why not use an incentive-based system to motivate kids and help them see the value of learning. That’s exactly how everything else is valued in society. Would an incentive system be more acceptable if it wasn’t cash? What about a points economy with a variety of rewards to choose from – http://www.uBoost.com – is an example of a system that works; it’s grounded in research and engaging, complete with social networking features.

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