incentives

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First Person

New York

Study: Promise of cash got on-track teens to do more homework

A study found that teens allocated their time differently when their families earned cash payments for improved academics. City teenagers who knew they would get cash bonuses if they did better in school spent less time socializing and more time studying, according to a new study. But the pattern held true only for teens who were already "academically inclined," according to the researchers who conducted the analysis, the latest in a series of studies about a city incentives experiment that was conducted from 2007 to 2010. The program, called Opportunity NYC, offered families payments for different behaviors related to education, health care, and work. For example, families got $200 for each member who had annual physical exam, and adults received $150 a month for maintaining a full-time job. The program ended in 2010 after generating a rich set of data that researchers are continuing to mine. A first look at the program's results last year found little to no impact of cash incentives on children's education. But the latest analysis, completed by the research firm MDRC, looked only at families with teenagers and focused on behaviors that the incentives weren't actually designed to influence. It finds that teens who were generally on track in school who had been promised cash for improved academic performance spent more time on homework and other academically oriented activities, forgoing social time in the process. Teens who had already fallen behind in school did not change their behavior because of the incentives, the researchers found. Those teens continued dividing their time in the same way among school activities, work, and watching TV, and socializing.
New York

Fryer: Incentives should spur action, rather than reward scores

A chart in Fryer's report shows the effect of incentive programs from city to city. (Click to enlarge) Despite several spectacular setbacks, Harvard economist Roland Fryer isn't ready to throw in the towel on incentives to boost student performance. In recent years, New York City abandoned two different inventives programs that Fryer designed — one for students and another for teachers — after it became clear that the promise of more cash for higher test scores wasn't paying off. But Fryer, who last week was awarded a "genius grant" by the MacArthur foundation, has experimented with incentives in other cities and gotten different results. In a report released today, he and a colleague from Harvard University's EdLabs offer instructions for designing incentives programs and argue that, contrary to what economic theory would predict, programs that reward "inputs" such as reading or completing homework are more effective than those that reward "outcomes" such as test scores, as New York's program did. In Houston, students who were paid $4 for each math skill they learned mastered more skills — and they did even better when the prize grew to $6 a skill. In Dallas, students who were paid to read books read more books. More study is needed to figure out exactly why the Texas students responded to incentives and students in New York City did not, the researchers write. But they hypothesize that New York City students might not understand that comprehending content is key to raising scores.