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Paying kids to get good grades – What are the long-term effects?

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In the April 8, 2010 issue of TIME Magazine there is an article about paying kids to get good grades in school.  In some cases it works, and in some cases it does not.  The TIME article (paper copy) shows graphics of the various cities in which it was tried and the outcome.

The results began to trickle into the lab last summer. In New York City, the $1.5 million paid to 8,320 kids for good test scores did not work — at least not in any way that’s easy to measure. In Chicago, under a different model, the kids who earned money for grades attended class more often and got better grades, two major accomplishments. Those students did not, however, do better on their standardized tests at the end of the year.

In Washington, the kids did better on standardized reading tests. Getting paid on a routine basis for a series of small accomplishments, including attendance and behavior, seemed to lead to more learning for those kids. And in Dallas, the experiment produced the most dramatic gains of all. Paying second-graders to read books significantly boosted their reading-comprehension scores on standardized tests at the end of the year — and those kids seemed to continue to do better the next year, even after the rewards stopped.

The kids had much in common. In all four cities, a majority were African American or Hispanic and from low-income families. So why did the results vary so dramatically from city to city?  (read more at the links below)

Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School
http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1978589,00.html

Why paying kids to get good grades is a bad idea
http://curiouscapitalist.blogs.time.com/2008/08/21/post_2/

Once could ask this… If paying kids for good grades works for some kids in the short-term, what are the long-term effects – if any?  And, why do Asian kids do better in school than kids in America?

If you pay kids to learn then it could be the case that any nascent intrinsic motivation for learning is now transformed into an economic transaction.  One of the reasons why Asian kids do better than American kids is one of culture and the Confucian idea of self-improvement.  Embedded in the Asian culture is fundamentally the idea that ”human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-cultivation and self-creation.” If Asian families pass on this “taken for granted” fact of cultural reality to their children then how does this affect a kids relation to learing and school?  In comes down to parents passing on cultural standards.  What is embedded in the American culture already?  What will be?

What will be, if you pay kids for good grades, is the start of a cultural meme that says something like … learn for compliance; learn for a reward; “this for that”; learning as an economic transaction.  Would it be better to … learn for mastery; learning as engagement; learning as self-creation, self-cultivation, and human perfectibility?

Many people learn things and do things for no economic transaction reason whatsoever.  The Wikipedia is one example.  All across the world people create, update, and maintain millions of articles in the Wikipedia without any compensation or “economic transaction”.  What about the Open Source community?  Millions of people creating software for no compensation.  Simply, for the satisfaction of doing it and providing something of value back to like-minded people.

So, kids in grammar school and high school are impressionable people – with perhaps a malleable judgement and ready to soak in new cultural values about all sorts of things.  If you taught kids from an early age that learning and “acts of creation” where always to be followed by an economic transaction would we ever have the Wikipedia, Open Source, YouTube, blogs, or any of the creations that one can find on the Internet or else where?

It seems that folks will try anything to get kids to learn and this has some very unhappy

Fryer believes there’s more good research to be done on incentives. But he doesn’t think incentives alone can fix our schools; he is increasingly convinced that the answer will involve a combination of reforms and that the interaction among those reforms will matter more than any single change in isolation. And whatever we do, he says, we have to test it first — and fearlessly.

“One thing we cannot do is, we cannot restrict ourselves to a set of solutions that make adults comfortable.”.

But again, what are the long-term consequences of a short-term effect?  What are the formative and transformative cultural implications?  Sometimes, like the boiled frog, things change very slowly that they are hardly noticed.  But the long-term consequences of a series of short-term, incremental changes, barely perceptible can have long-term irreversible consequences – ask the frog about that.

Kids may just not be ready for any of this “experimentation”.  This is how the TIME article ends

Then I ask her [ she student ] about the psychologists’ argument that she should work hard for the love of learning, not for short-term rewards. “Honestly?” she asks. “Yes, honestly,” I say. She looks me dead in the eye. “We’re kids. Let’s be realistic.”

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Written by frrl

April 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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