Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Acting White: Paying NYC Kids for Grades

I am a fan of Roland Fryer, Harvard economics wunderkind. I have read and utilized his work and believe he cares about the plight of blacks as much as anyone, including me. Even so, like most economist, his professional hammer swings a particular way, and this creates an issue when considering his current experiment with the NYC schools. Paying black kids for good grades may have laboratory merit, but it also has very distracting practical implications on his subjects and kids in general.

Regardless of whether kids are motivated by the desire to purchase video games or supplement food on their dinner table, proving that they respond to short-term wants or necessities does little more than retrace known human behavior dynamics. The trick is not proving short-term pain vs. pleasure influence, but rather the long-term factors and implementations that result in happy and productive lives.

As a kid, I was fortunate to have enough food to eat, but like many of the NYC kids I wanted to buy things too, cool things. But with only odd-job and allowance money, I had to wrestle my dreams into a connection with my long-term efforts. I learned to believe that if I worked hard in school that I would be rewarded with a chance for a good job, along with it the opportunity to have whatever I wanted, within reason of course. On the upside, I did not negotiate my day-to-day behavior with my parents or teachers for some immediate reward, this is not how life works. My short-term motivation was reserved for steering clear of the parental 'belt'.

Professor Fryer’s experiment sacrifices the desperate education kids need for long-term dreams, patience, and perseverance, along with academics. When the prize money is not there, for whatever reason, will the kids continue to apply themselves with vigor? Why would they? More reasonably, the response would be some form of protest against the ‘unfairness’ of having their motivation taken away, whether aimed at the school or simply their parents. At this point we will know the full and sad extent of this experiment.

James C. Collier


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J. Scott said...

You know James,

I tried this myself with the boy that I am mentoring in Baltimore. Very bright young man, he just doesn't have an appreciation for the connection between his academic performance today and the kind of life he will live 10 years from now. I was desperate to get him in the habit of achieving, so I offered him whatever he wanted (within reason) for a good report card. My plan was to slowly taper the reward while pointing out his ability to perform and how it was improving his future. 1 year later... the reward was never enough in the first place. His report cards never improved, and now grades have actually dropped. In my experiment consisting of a single subject, I would have to say that this approach can work. But it will probably require large amounts of money per child to persuade them, and the rewards will have to be immediate and often.

Hustla said...

man, all i know is, paying for grades is not the way to go. these kids need motivation...they need to see the bigger picture, not everyone is going to be a rapper, they need to see the effects and struggles of not going to school before its too late

the don -

i will be returning to this blog i like it

Anonymous said...

in less privileged areas they see ppl getting money as quickly as they spend it.
So why shouldn't they view education in the same light. Not saying its the way to go, because I certainly don't think so, but it is sad.

Ether Blade said...

My mother has been a teacher for 35 years and she knows that unfortunately this upcoming generation is in trouble. She is about to retire soon and she cares so much about the kids its sad. I feel for the kids as well. They are so damn apathetic and angry. Money will not change that. Escentially(sp) they will buy more usless stuff rather than learn.

Julie said...

This is literally throwing money at the symptom rather than addressing the underlying problems.

How about starting with making learning interesting and fun? How about teaching kids that the things that they need to learn are connected to the things they are interested in? How about encouraging the natural sense of curiosity and wonder that all children have, rather than crushing it down to fit into a little bubble that can be filled in with a number 2 pencil?

Our kids are tested into oblivion and more and more "test prep" is pushed on them until they've lost all interest in real learning that requires thought and inquiry and now they're being paid to give up their thoughts and focus even more on dull, unimaginative learning.

I'd love to see NYC (and other public school systems, but particularly NYC since that's where my kids are going to school)take all the money that's being poured into testing and paying kids for high test scores and use it to create more small, progressive schools with small classroom sizes where kids can learn that their thoughts are worthwhile and their desire for knowledge is connected to the things they need to learn in school.

Anonymous said...

I agree on some things with the previous commenters. However, I also think that if the study tracks long-term outcomes, it could be very interesting indeed.

Maybe getting good grades, even if only for short-term self-interest, can lead these kids to better lives in the long term.

Even if not, at least the study might yield valuable, research-based information where there currently isn't any (that I'm aware of, anyway)...and the kids won't be any worse off for the experiment, in any case.

James C. Collier said...

If it turns out that black grades improve with a monetary bounty, should not this bounty be available to all kids?

Fkitten said...

Just found your blog and like it very much.

LaReinaCobre said...

Another thought - this may work in the short term, but giving corporations such access to kids is frightening to me.