He and some colleagues conducted an experiment in three Chicago schools where they gave students $20 on the spot if they improved their performance from the last time they took a test. The students had no prior notice they would be offered a reward, so the study just measured how cash incentives influenced effort at the time of the task. (I can just imagine the looks on their faces when a $20 bill was placed on their desks - LOL!)
Researchers also studied the effects of other types of rewards (some were given less money, some were just given trophies or trinkets) and when the reward was given to the student.
The results are fascinating......
- Gains are only seen when you give students the reward right away - a month later doesn't work.
- Trophies and trinkets worked for younger students (Grades 2-4) but only money worked for older students (Grades 5+).
- Effort improves most when you give students the prize first and then take it back if they don't improve - referred to as "loss aversion" theory.
- The effects are seen more on Math tests than Reading tests.
- Boys are far more responsive to any type of incentive. As Levitt says, "boys basically completely slack off unless the stakes are really high." Whoa......
(To download the full paper, just click here.)
So what does this mean for educators? Should we run to the Dollar Store to stock up on trophies and other prizes? I'm not so sure..... I'd be happy if parents offered ANY consistent incentive for their children to do well in school.
So what do you think? Is cash for good grades a good idea? What incentives do you offer in your classroom?