More Evidence That Paying for Grades Isn’t Easy

As you may have read on this blog, the economist Roland Fryer has done quite a bit of research on bribing kids — i.e., offering financial rewards for good grades. A new working paper from Josh Angrist, Philip Oreopoulos and Tyler Williams examines the effect of financial rewards on performance among an older cohort: college students. First- and second-year college students in Canada were offered cash rewards for grades above 70 and were also contacted by upperclassmen advisers “trained to provide advice about study strategies, time management, and university?bureaucracy.” The authors found that “[t]he intervention increased the number of courses graded above 70 and points earned above 70 for second-year students, but there was no significant effect on overall GPA. Results are somewhat stronger for a subsample that correctly described the program rules.” Their findings are consistent with previous research indicating that the incentives are less successful for older children. [%comments]

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  1. Drill-Baby-Drill drill Team says:

    One of the more progressive programs for bribing for grades was the HOPE scholarship in Georgia began in 1993. If a student maintains a 3.0 GPA in college they get FREE tuition at a public institution plus fees and allowances for books.

    It encouraged not just enrolling in college but achievement through college. It has funded nearly a million scholars.

    I would like to know the long term achievement of these graduates compared to let say Alabama. or South Carolina where they do not have such a program.

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  2. Tim says:

    The financial incentive caused them to shift their utility and spread it more evenly, rather than increase their utility. The college students decided that two C’s were worth more now than a B and a D. I would think that, although this doesn’t increase overall GPA, this is a desired outcome.

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  3. Michael Radosevich says:

    Paying students for good grades does not work. Paying higher taxes for better public schools works.

    How many “failing schools” are in wealthy school districts? None. There was a recent study involving California public schools, and not a single school in a wealthy district was a “failing school”.

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  4. annaCMS says:

    The fact that students are being paid for getting grades above 70 causes them to spread out their time studying for all courses instead of mostly one. If a student used to get really high grades on one course and really low on another he or she now focuses on both in order to receive the money. The marginal benefit of receiving the money is larger than the cost of changing the way of studying in order to get grades above 70’s. This can be seen because the students are choosing to change their study habits. The reason why this works better with younger children is because they need the money more, when older there are other ways to get the money and other things such as spending time with friends instead of studying become more important. So, the marginal cost of changing study habits for younger kids is higher then the benefit of the money.

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  5. EvelynU says:

    One possible explanation for the higher success rates in affluent schools than in poor ones is that in neither case is the school actually providing an adequate education in and of itself, but in affluent areas, parents provide so much additional education that the failure of the schools is masked. Between help with homework, private tutors, various kinds of enrichment activities, as well as the normal reading aloud and going to museums that affluent parents provide, parents are essentially home-schooling in their spare time.

    Additionally, a story on public radio today talked about the difference in sheer volume of words spoken by middle class parents compared to poor parents to their children, which accounts for the vocabulary that kids arrive at school with. Kids in poor schools have many disadvantages that are not easy to overcome with more money paid to the school itself.

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  6. Laconophilia says:

    @#3, let’s not continue to blindly pump more money into the abyss that is public education. Your anecdote, assuming it is even true in the first place, doesn’t account for a number of factors beyond tax dollars, such as parental involvement/oversight, education level of parents, etc. Correlation isn’t causation.

    The problem with these studies about financial incentives being insufficient motivators is that in many cases the carrot simply isn’t big enough. Offering a college student $100 isn’t going to get you very far. Upwards of $1,000 may show a different outcome.

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  7. Bindi Papadum says:

    @michael – you are making an assumption that would make the freakonomics authors smirk (correlation vs. causation). You assume that wealthy school districts have better schools because of higher taxes, but there are more likely causes for this. For example, the (relatively) higher education (and ambition) levels of the parents is a better predictor of good schools than tax rates. The wealthy school districts have more smart, ambitious parents, and this raises the level of normal achievement for the kids and schools. Tax rates don’t cause high achievement, smart parents do.


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  8. tanstaafl says:

    I wonder if it might be more effective if students were paid incrementally. For example, pay students $5/hour to 10 hours tutoring sessions per week. As we know, students are procrastinators, so the thought of earning $700 16 weeks down the road may not motivate them. But, if they could earn $50/week attending tutoring sessions starting the 1st week of the semester, this immediate payment will entice them to attend. Slowly they will replace the hard-to-kick habit of “not studying” with the good habit of “studying” and their performance would increase.

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