R U Studying?

Roland Fryer and Joel Klein are back at it again, trying innovative approaches to help students in the New York City schools learn.

Fryer, who is a tenured professor at Harvard, a frequent co-author of mine, and Chief Equality Officer in the New York City school system, was the driving force behind a pilot program now ongoing in New York City that gives kids financial incentives for doing well in school.

Yesterday, the 2 of them rolled out a new program which will put special cell phones into the hands of select students. Rewarding good performance and behavior with cell phones and minutes is just a small part of the overall goal, however. Another part is using these cell phones to communicate with the kids. Teachers and students can text back and forth about homework assignments. Celebrities (or everyday success stories like graduates of the high school who have gone on to be doctors) can send positive messages over the network.

Perhaps most importantly, the hope is that linking school performance to access to the hottest new technology will make excelling in school cool, or at least less stigmatizing than it otherwise seems to be in many schools.

My prediction: it will not be long before a bunch of NYC high school students are emailing the Freakonomics blog to complain about our partial RSS feed.

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  1. Brad says:

    As the spouse of a teacher, I’m frustrated with the ever increasing ways of keeping teachers plugged into their jobs. She is not paid enough to be texting students about their assignments at all hours (And of course she would be paying for her minutes, right?). Whether this helps students or not, it’s not good for teachers mental well-being or family life. There should be more focus on decreasing the huge percentage of new teachers who leave the profession in their first three years. Taking care of our teachers is the best way to improve student outcomes.

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  2. Jose says:

    Where can I learn about other programs that give kids financial incentives for doing well in school?

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  3. David says:

    ” My prediction: it will not be long before a bunch of NYC high school students are emailing the Freakonomics blog to complain about our partial RSS feed. ”

    THEN will you fix it?

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  4. Richard says:

    I wonder if there will still be a stigma attached to high achievers like most reward systems in schools end up having. That is, are cell phones cool enough to offset the stigma?

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  5. Charles D says:

    What happened to demanding more from the parents? Teachers are already overworked and underpaid, now they need to be annoyed by teenage texters? I am a bit sick of these incentive plans for kids that have been coming out, why not incentive plans for parents when their children do well?

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  6. Alex says:

    My prediction is that if celebrities send out texts over the network, it won’t be long before the smart students have sold their phones to the kids who want notes from Beyonce.

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  7. DJH says:

    I’m not sure that keeping kids & teachers connected 24×7 is the key to a good education. We used to provide a good education, without this sort of “plugging in.” Commenter #1 has a salient point: The last thing we need to do to teachers is make them work 24×7. (The same is true for ANY type of worker in ANY field; even people like doctors who do get calls at all hours, have defined call-time-limits.)

    I’m willing to bet that text messages sent after-hours are going to wait for replies. The goal of “immediate connection, immediate communication” will not be met. Not unless additional personnel are hired to respond to these messages at all hours … which I’m pretty sure is NOT what will happen here.

    This means this whole thing isn’t much more than a gimmick. It makes parents and possibly the public at large feel good, but really, it won’t accomplish anything.

    Much more effective (and less gimmicky) solutions would be found, by revisiting why education worked so much better in the past, than it does now. There are reasons public education has declined since (say) the 1950s. Technology is not the answer, because it is not the reason for this decline.

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  8. Chloe says:

    Science Magazine had a great special issue a few weeks ago about ‘cities’. One of the reports what on this exact incentive structure, which was first introduced in Mexico (I could be mistaken on the country, though). The program there has done wonders, because parents are paid to send their children to school in addition to receiving incentives on immunizing their children and taking them to get regular health check-ups. In this case, the program works well because rather than having teenagers help with the family business, there is an economic reason to go to school. In the same article, the NYC program was criticized because so many different factors are involved. The article also mentioned that just because more students are showing up for class, doesn’t mean they are getting a better education.

    I agree with above posters, pay teachers more, allow them to develop their own curriculum and train them to do so…that will help. The idea of kids even more plugged in to technology, and not playing outside, bothers me. This is coming from someone studying S&T policy, so I heart technology, but in these situations, I is simply treating the symptoms.

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