Research on Student-Incentive Programs
Some research demonstrates a significant increase in success among students after they're offered monetary rewards. According to the Wall Street Journal, Texas's plan to award high-scoring AP students a maximum of $500 in 2008 led to more students pursuing AP credit and eventually attending college. However, there are mixed conclusions in earlier studies of programs in Ohio, Israel and Canada. Advocates of student-incentive programs posit that rewarding students for their performance is a valuable method to promote learning, particularly for at-risk and/or disadvantaged students. However, opponents of pay-for-performance programs argue that such programs don't address complex systemic issues, such as increased dropout rates and crowded classrooms.
Who's Getting Rewarded?
Data from 10 pilot schools in Texas's cash-incentive program showed that AP test scores doubled in the first year and quadrupled in the second year, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. However, not only students were rewarded; teachers were also provided with additional training and bonuses as high as $10,000 for high student scores. Therefore, it's not certain if the success of Texas's program was entirely due to rewarding students monetarily.
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What's Being Rewarded?
Cash-incentive programs are an attempt to enhance student performance in reading, science and math, but in many cases, they only lead to improved standardized test scores. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are responsible for providing students with a great learning experience, which in turn appears on the school's academic report card. However, some essential 21st-century skills aren't being rewarded, such as collaboration, communication and leadership. While students may graduate high school with great grades and financial rewards for their performance, they may also lack the intangible skills that can help them shine in a competitive job market.
Will Student Scores Drop If They Aren't Paid?
According to Barry Schwartz, a cognitive psychology professor at Swarthmore College, financial incentives could eventually lessen students' yearning to learn when not offered financial rewards. In low-performing schools, students' only motivational factor for performing better on standardized tests may be financial rewards. Will those same students still be motivated to excel academically without being paid?
Ultimately, students should be motivated to learn based on intrinsic factors, like gaining knowledge or obtaining new skills. Intrinsically motivated students find learning more meaningful without expecting anything in return but personal gratification and achievement.
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