In a two-week trial of a cash incentive program for students at a Washington middle school attendance and punctuality have improved. Grades have not. The Washington Post’s Bill Turque takes a look inside a school that is aggressively implementing the controversial concept.
The Northwest Washington school’s 307 students are among the roughly 3,000 middle-schoolers eligible to earn as much as $100 every two weeks — to a maximum of $1,500 for the academic year — for showing up on time, not disrupting class and getting high grades. Students have been buzzing about the pilot program, called Capital Gains, since they learned in late August that their school had been selected.
The program, as you might have guessed, is the brainchild of incentives guru Roland Fryer. Every two weeks, students are evaluated on 10-point scales according to a series of performance indicators. “All schools in the program are required to review behavior and attendance, which means showing up on time for every class,” the Post reports. “Individual schools can choose other criteria, including grades, homework, class participation and adherence to the dress code. Each point is worth $2.”
For the first two pay periods, beginning Oct. 17, checks will be distributed by school staff. Later, they will be deposited directly into student-owned savings accounts at SunTrust Bank. Students will be able to access the money with or without their parents, and no one can withdraw money without the child, officials said.
Last week, it was announced the Fryer will lead a new education research center at Harvard University, which will monitor efforts to close achievement gaps. Incentive programs, not surprisingly, will be the first idea under Fryer’s shiny new $44 million microscope.
Update: I’m still agnostic on incentives, but a reader at Eduwonkette nicely summarizes the ick factor that many educators feel about it. “The soul-crushing aspect of Fryer’s theoretical framework is that it lets the curriculum and the teacher and the school entirely off the hook,” observes Citizen X. ”It’s a much more cynical view on students living in poverty. They don’t care, they are only motivated by material objects that they don’t have, they have to be bribed into “learning” (or at least learning to get a better score on a bubble sheet).”