A Very Long-Term Experiment in Educational Incentives

Photo: wired_gr

A worthwhile Bloomberg profile of John List, the University of Chicago economist, frequent Levitt collaborator, and SuperFreakonomics hero who has championed the use of field experiments. List recently received $10 million from hedge funder Kenneth Griffin to track the performance of 600 students, including 150 at the Griffin Early Childhood Center. Along with Levitt and Roland Fryer, List will “monitor the students through annual tests, attendance records and graduation rates. As the students move into adulthood, their employment, pay and criminal records, if any, will also be tracked. While early results from the experiment may be published as soon as this year, the project has money to follow the students ‘until they die,’ List says.” List plans to experiment with using incentives to motivate both students and parents; he successfully used incentives (a trip to Disney World) to potty-train his daughter. “Incentives are the pillar of economics and represent everything I’m about,” says List. “If you understand the incentives people are operating under, you have a good first guess about what they’re going to be doing in certain circumstances and how changes in the environment and/or in their institutions will influence their behavior.”

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  1. TZ says:

    Experimental vs. Empirical… …

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  2. Mulberry says:

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  3. Jon VP says:

    Unfortunately, there is little incentive to study the impact of incentives in the “very long term,” because, well, as Keynes famously put it: “In the long run we’re all dead.”

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  4. Bill McGonigle says:

    I understand the academic value, but it’s a bit creepy that there are young children who are now marked for being studied through their whole lives. I hope they are allowed to opt-out when they turn 18. Of course, if they know they are being tracked that could skew the experiment…

    I suspect that the financial management of the endowment at some point over the next century may make the point moot, though.

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    • Pete says:

      I have been involved in a blood pressure study with the University of MN since I was around 7 years old. It is voluntary and I actually get a kick out of it.

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  5. Josh says:

    I wonder if knowing that they are being studied and followed has any effect on the students over time. Interesting though.

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  6. Adam says:

    This isn’t related to the blog but to the upgrade of the site. Very nice :) However, I’m sure you’ve noticed, but during the upgrade, all comment posts from previous years and days before the upgrade contain duplicate comments from each user. Very quick fix in the query calling the information or a change in the code (depending on how the comments loop works).

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  7. Sian Robertson says:

    Reminds me of 7up, the documentary series following people every 7 years starting when they were 7 yrs old. I think they are in their early 50s now.

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  8. ve student says:

    It is obvious that incentives have been used to drive people in all fields of life from all period of time. However, tracking the incentives of a student from birth to death will not result in much data. I believe that as time passes so does a person’s incentives. As eras come and go so do the trends that change. The incentive for one person may differ from another. The key to incentives are effectively using them in the variety of different circumstances present in life. I also believe that tracking a person’s entire life is kind of creepy and some what an invasion of privacy, but whatever means to get your data I guess.

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