Better grades through cash
Ideas: New programs offer incentives to motivates students to study.
(Page 2 of 2)
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In one of his studies, a group of college students that were paid to solve puzzles often quit brain-teasers altogether when the experiment (and the payments) ended. Students in the experiment who weren’t paid continued working on the puzzles even after the study’s conclusion. The monetary award offered to the first group, Mr. Deci says, reduced the students’ interest in general puzzle-solving as a way to learn for learning’s sake.
“The idea that [being motivated by money] is going to magically turn into intrinsic motivation is really a pipe dream,” he says.
More than money
Ultrinsic says their website offers more than just cash. It opens up the power of social capital. They hope the website’s competitions become a topic of conversation among students, as well as a reason to collaborate – much like exercise partners promise to hit the gym together when monthly membership fees alone don’t get them out the door.
Public recognition of rewards matters just as much as the reward itself, according to Stanford University researcher Margaret Raymond.
Her studies at charter schools found that simply stringing bright lights on the door of a high-achieving classroom was enough to positively affect the effort of both students in that class and nearby classes.
Gwen Eudey, an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, questions whether Ultrinsic will have much effect on her “very self-motivated” students. But she doesn’t object to the idea.
“It sounds amusing,” she says. “It gives a quick payback to your education.”
Other professors wondered if Ultrinsic might discourage students from working together if they felt it was costing them prize money.
Send the right message
The Advanced Placement Incentive Program, by contrast, does more than hand out $100 to high-school kids who earn a passing score on college-level AP tests. It also includes salary incentives for some teachers and offers them special training from AP exam authors.
“A hundred dollars will get the kid in the door, but the training keeps the kid in the class and gives them a prayer for being successful,” says Renee McCormick, who works with the National Math and Science Foundation to oversee that preparation. “What we do behind the curtain is 10 times more important.”
Because low-income students often feel neglected by the public education system, education researchers such as Tom Brock say they sometimes can’t distinguish between the value of the reward and the value of its symbolism as a good faith gesture.
Consider the Opening Doors program, run from 2004 to 2005 at two community colleges near New Orleans. Cash-strapped students with children were offered up to three potential payments: $250 for enrolling for at least six credit hours, $250 for maintaining at least a C average through midterm exams, and $500 for completing the semester with the same GPA minimum.
Most participants improved both their academic performance and psychological health, including reported levels of optimism and goal-setting ability.
“It was a very positive signal coming from the outside that someone believes in them and trusts them,” says Mr. Brock, one of the study’s authors.
The creators of Ultrinsic now hope investors will trust their approach, allowing them to expand to new campuses and engineer more sophisticated rules. “We believe this is benefiting society,” Gelbart says.