Search the Site

What's Wrong With Cash for Grades? (Ep. 83)


(Photo: vxla)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “What’s Wrong With Cash for Grades?”
(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)
In it, Steve Levitt talks to Kai Ryssdal about whether it’s effective to pay kids to do well in school. Levitt, along with John ListSusanne Neckermann, and Sally Sadoff, recently wrote up a working paper (PDF here) based on their field experiments in Chicago schools. Levitt blogged about the paper earlier; here’s the Atlantic‘s take.
As Levitt points out, financial incentives are everywhere in life but it is nevertheless a controversial idea to talk about systematically paying schoolkids for better grades. Roland Fryer has experimented and written widely about bribing students (and teachers), and has been both praised and lambasted for it.
This is one of those issues that most people seem to assess based on their prior beliefs (i.e., it’s “wrong” to pay kids for grades because it will kill their intrinsic motivation), and the empirical evidence is at best mixed. But as Levitt discusses, there is at least some reason to think about cash incentives as one helpful tool in our educational fix.
On the other hand, Levitt knows that cash rewards don’t always work out as planned.