Fryer and Levitt Go Ghetto

In academia, it is seen as an honor when someone wants to reprint one of your published papers in an edited volume of collected papers. It is really an honor if someone wants to take the time to translate it into another language.

Roland Fryer and I feel so honored.

Back in 2004, Roland and I published a piece in the journal Education Next describing our research on racial test-score gaps. That paper was recently translated into ghetto English. The new version is here. It is a must-read (although very, very NSFW). Usually something gets lost in the translation, but I would say in this case it is an improvement.

Bribing Kids to Try on Tests

We use direct financial incentives to motivate so many different activities in life.  No one expects workers in a fast food restaurant to flip burgers for free.  No one expects teachers to show up and teach without getting paid.  But when it comes to kids in school, we think that the distant financial rewards they will earn years or decades later should be enough to motivate them, even though for most kids a month or two feels like an eternity.

To learn a little more about whether kids' school effort responds to financial incentives, John List, Suzanne Neckermann, Sally Sadoff, and I carried out a series of field experiments we recently wrote up as a working paper (PDF here).  Sally Sadoff (who you might remember from the Freakonomics movie as the woman who works tirelessly to help the students in Chicago Heights), talked about the research on Fox Business News.

Unlike most previous studies involving kids, schools, and payments, in this research we aren’t trying to get kids to study hard or learn more, we were going after something even more simple: just get the student to try hard on the test itself.  So we don’t tell the kids about the financial reward ahead of time -- we just surprise them right before they sit down to take the test by offering them up to $20 for improvements.

Playing the Nerd Card: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Playing the Nerd Card.”

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

It's about the rise in basketball players (and other athletes) showing up at press conferences wearing the kind of eyeglasses usually associated with Steve Urkel and Buddy Holly. Among the practitioners: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Robert Griffin III.

What's going on here? Has the rate of myopia exploded, even among premier athletes?

We talk to Susan Vitale, a research epidemiologist with the NIH's National Eye Institute, who worked on a large study on myopia in the U.S. There has indeed been a huge spike in recent decades, and it's especially pronounced among blacks.

Roland Fryer Identifies Five Habits of Successful Charter Schools

Harvard economist (and Freakonomics friend) Roland Fryer has a new paper out (full version here) that takes a look at the specific successful habits of charter schools. Along with co-author Will Dobbie, Fryer collected “unparalleled data” on 35 elementary and middle charter schools in New York City by conducting extensive interviews and videotaping classrooms.

Their results are fairly counter-intuitive. They showed that traditional solutions like class size, per-pupil expenditure, and the number of teachers with advanced degrees are not correlated with effectiveness, and in fact, "resource-based solutions" actually lowered school effectiveness.

Instead, they found five qualities that made up about 50 percent of a charter school's effectiveness. These are:

1. Frequent teacher feedback
2. Data driven instruction
3. High-dosage tutoring
4. Increased instructional time
5. Relentless focus on academic achievement.

Roland Fryer: It’s Official, He's a "Genius"

I first met Roland Fryer a decade ago. It didn’t take me long to figure out he was a genius. It took the folks at the MacArthur Foundation a little longer to come to that realization, but they finally got on board last week when they gave Roland one of their high-profile MacArthur “Genius” Awards.

Most of Roland’s research has been devoted to understanding the factors influencing Black economic progress. He’s worked on segregation, the sources of the Black-White test score gap, the reasons why Black longevity is less than that of Whites, and the Ku Klux Klan, among many other topics.

Exam High Schools: Not As Great As We Thought

Exam high schools are generally regarded as a cut above, turning out congressmen, scholars, and all-around high achievers. They account for over half of the top 109 American schools in the U.S. News and World Report best high schools list, and an incredible 20 out of 21 from Newsweek’s list of "public elite.”

But a new study from Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer of Harvard throws cold water on this notion, and calls into question whether the exam schools typically cited for excellence are, well, really all that excellent.

Writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dobbie and Fryer take a fresh look into the measurable achievements of exam school students, specifically focusing on three well-known schools in New York City: Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, and Stuyvesant. While attending an exam school might be great for your overall education, and resume, this doesn’t come through in terms of increased test scores or college achievement. Here's the abstract:

Will Rahm Emanuel's Merit-pay System Work Where Others Haven't?

Last week, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he's rolling out a merit pay program specifically for school principals, using $5 million in donated funds. The plan is particularly bold considering its announcement comes on the heels of quite a bit of evidence, from research to scandals, showing the faults of merit pay.

In March, we wrote about Harvard economist Roland Fryer's study on New York City's failed merit pay experiment, the Schoolwide Performance Bonus Program, which was shutdown last month. A subsequent RAND report echoes much of Fryer's findings:

...the theory underlying school-based pay-for-performance programs may be flawed. Motivation alone might not be sufficient. Even if the bonus here had inspired teachers to improve, they might have lacked the capacity or resources — such as school leadership, expertise, instructional materials, or time — to bring about improvement.

Teacher Incentives Ineffective in New York

Roland Fryer continues to work with incentives in education -- for students, parents, and teachers. His newest working paper (gated) describes an experiment in New York City that was unsuccessful in moving the needle.

A Very Long-Term Experiment in Educational Incentives

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.

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.