Friday, April 09, 2010

Money for Nothin'

According to City Room, the experiment of paying students to get better test scores has flunked badly: "The results are in for controversial program that promised $50 to New York seventh graders who aced tests, and they show that money was not enough to prod students to perform significantly better."

The economist who thought up this brainchild-one that cost the DOE $1.5 million-did make an interesting observation: "Dr. Fryer says it is possible that students have a difficult time connecting their everyday actions to long-term success." Who would have imagined that?

As he goes on to say-with the wisdom litterally gushing out: "The students were universally excited about the money, and they wanted to earn more. They just didn’t seem to know how. When researchers asked them how they could raise their scores, the kids mentioned test-taking strategies like reading the questions more carefully. But they didn’t talk about the substantive work that leads to learning. “No one said they were going to stay after class and talk to the teacher,” Fryer says. “Not one.”

Now can anyone guess where this lacuna of knowledge comes from? Motivation and the desire to learn are, at least to some extent that is significant, individual characteristics that are taught in the home. Where they aren't-and where parents are either absent or clueless, well, the money is not any great incentive that will yield the needed behavioral changes to succeed.

What any student of the Protestant Ethic would be able to tell Dr. Fryer, is that the desire to succeed in the world-and the motivation to acquire the skills to do just that-is concomitant with the inculcation of a particular world view, one that connects the everyday self denials needed for long term achievement, to the understanding that that achievement will be possible.

Put rather simply, the extrinsic rewards without the accompanying world view and belief system-the intrinsic motivation-will be destined to fail. And Dr, Fryer, one million and a half dollars later, did manage to prove that Max Weber's insights were indeed correct. But he really should have used his own money, and not the public's. But whose fault is that?