Should Students Be Bribed?

That’s the question asked in a recent Time article:

To find out, a Harvard economist named Roland Fryer Jr. did something education researchers almost never do: he ran a randomized experiment in hundreds of classrooms in multiple cities. He used mostly private money to pay 18,000 kids a total of $6.3 million and brought in a team of researchers to help him analyze the effects. He got death threats, but he carried on. The results, which he shared exclusively with TIME, represent the largest study of financial incentives in the classroom — and one of the more rigorous studies ever on anything in education policy.

How did the experiment work?

The experiment ran in four cities: Chicago, Dallas, Washington and New York. Each city had its own unique model of incentives, to see which would work best. Some kids were paid for good test scores, others for not fighting with one another. The results are fascinating and surprising. They remind us that kids, like grownups, are not puppets. They don’t always respond the way we expect.

What happened?

In the city where Fryer expected the most success, the experiment had no effect at all — “as zero as zero gets,” as he puts it. In two other cities, the results were promising but in totally different ways. In the last city, something remarkable happened. Kids who got paid all year under a very elegant scheme performed significantly better on their standardized reading tests at the end of the year. Statistically speaking, it was as if those kids had spent three extra months in school, compared with their peers who did not get paid.

What techniques have you used in the classroom, bribing or otherwise, to incentivize students? As the article suggests, students are always that excited by just “learning.”