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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.”