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More money, zero transparency for Cap Gains

Ever since DCPS launched its cash-for-good-grades program, Capital Gains, in the fall of 2008, there has been great curiosity about the results. Would the 3,000 middle schoolers eligible to earn up to $1,500 per academic year actually improve their grades and behavior?

Since the roll out, staged for cameras with great flourish at Shaw@Garnet-Patterson Middle School, the District has offered no data answering that question. Officials have said the program's creator and funding partner, Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer, is crunching the numbers and will be ready to say something when he's, well, ready. A Freedom of Information Act request, which I filed in September, has not been answered.

That silence has been broken, just a bit, in the form of a request to the D.C. Council for more money. According to a measure the Council will take up Tuesday, DCPS is asking for an additional $255,000, "because student participants are performing at a higher level than originally anticipated, thus causing the amount of expected student payments for the remainder of the 2009-2010 school year to exceed the program's budget." According to the resolution, this brings the District's part of the price tag for Capital Gains to $1.2 million.

I asked school officials Monday why it was okay to ask for more money without sharing any real information about the initiative. Officials said they are working on a response.

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By Bill Turque  |  March 15, 2010; 12:19 PM ET
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Well, Guy Brandenburg has crunched the publicly available test scores:

"How well did the “Capital Gains” program work? In case you have forgotten, in the “Capital Gains” program, students at participating schools could earn substantial amounts of cash by having good grades, good attendance, and good conduct.

Was it effective in raising DC-CAS scores at those schools, in comparison with the “control” group of schools that did not take part in the program?

In one word: NO.

Apparently paying students hundreds of dollars doesn’t produce academic gains as shown on the DC-CAS.

Which raises a question – why isn’t anybody else saying anything about this?

And another question: since the experiment failed, why are we paying to do it again?"



Posted by: edlharris | March 15, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I want to know if these two experts think the program is worthy:

efavorite, and,

phillip marlow

Posted by: axolotl | March 15, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

How kind of you, axoloti. I have no idea if it's worthy, because I haven't seen the data. Unlike many people who were appalled at the idea of paying for grades, I thought it was worth a try. I became skepical after reading research on human motivation (specifically in Dan Pink's new book "Drive") and hearing the Chancellor's waffling response about the state of the CG data on WAMU:

“We have not been able to do that yet and actually, we are not responsible for doing that. Harvard and the edlabs will do that. So now that we have the data in hand, we actually have to go through a process where the schools are able to review their data and make any notes that they want to, if they think there was anything that was incorrect. So we clean it over the course of that time period that they have to dispute the test score results and once it’s all clean and finalized, then we’ll send that data to Harvard and they’ll do that analysis.”

I do recommend checking out Brandenburg’s data. He’s really gone out of his way to make an analysis from the publicly available data. EdLabs would be impressed and maybe embarrassed into showing its long delayed results.

Posted by: efavorite | March 15, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Bill - thanks for following up on this story.

Posted by: efavorite | March 15, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

So much hostility axototl.
I'll third the Brandenburg data.
It is quite fascinating.

(I see you are still smarting over this:

The Marlboro Man

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | March 15, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Brandenberg's analysis is misspecified. Not as badly as his previously posted nonsense, in which he expected changes between years to correlate within groups defined by changes of principal. He harrumphs when they don't as much as he naively expects. Calculate price changes -- hourly, daily, or weekly -- in gold and then in silver. The fluctuations negatively correlate. And that says nothing about the relative value of gold and silver. Or whether one is a good investment or not. Pathetic.

Now, the misspecification of the Capital Gains data,not hard, considering how badly Brandenberg performed with the school principal analysis. The hypothesis of Fryer is that students who respond will be supported by peers who also respond, and that the ethos of groups will change. When? In succeeding years. In anything I've seen about Fryer's hypothesis, he is agnostic about the fraction of students who will respond to the material rewards. Obviously, if only a minority reshape their behavior, then the school means won't change much.
I'm not taken with Capital Gains, and don't think much of a green economist's pop social psychology. Seeing how much DCPS (and other) principals have been willing to reward students, directly, and through promoted lotteries

Posted by: incredulous | March 15, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

There have been studies of this type of pay for performance with kids before. The results are short term improvements that go away as soon as you stop payment. I don't understand why we are letting another group of people who don't like that answer experiment with our kids.

I would say giving them more money to continue to run this experiment based on "we say it is working" is a no. You have to better than that.

Posted by: qazqaz | March 15, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

You are right. The treatment protocol, record keeping, and design were never published. The Capital Gains program should never have been permitted. Throwing money at Fryer without seeing a complete design and all instruments and necessary training was like the Mayor wiring a contract to a favorite architectural, engineering, and construction management firm, guaranteeing profits without a guarantee of performance. The experiment should have been subject to human subjects review and protection. Maybe Turque has asked Harvard U for Fryer's submission to the Human Subjects Committee, which should have laid all of those elements out.
As students in the treatment group could supplement family income by $80 per month over the school year, the program amounted to a bribe to middle school families to enroll in a DCPS school and disincentive to enroll in a private school or public charter school.

Some better medical journals are now requiring prior submission of experimental designs and protocols to stop ethical lapses in treatment of data and reporting of results. That should have happened with the Capital Gains experiment, too.

Posted by: incredulous | March 16, 2010 1:27 AM | Report abuse

"Brandenberg's analysis is misspecified. Not as badly as his previously posted nonsense,"

The usual way to respond to analysis that doesn't meet your view. Care to provide an analysis that makes sense incredulous?
Or does stringing words together to make yourself sound pretentious enough?
(I, know, I know, you're thinking "Pretentious, moi?")

"1. Still waiting for efavorite, phillipmarlowe, and axolotol to defend the selective recruitment and admissions practice of Hardy MS. "

I was going to defend the "selective recruitment and admissions practice" until I read your next to last line:
"That ends June 8, with Hardy's 8th grade commencement hooplah --cost ME a mandatory $147 under Pope awhile ago"

Can't be that selective after all.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | March 16, 2010 7:23 AM | Report abuse

"I want to know if these two experts ..."

Yet on the Harry Potter story you decry name calling.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | March 16, 2010 7:24 AM | Report abuse

As a teacher whose school participate in Capital Gains I can tell you this program does very little to encourage academic achievement. Most kids are willing to settle for "something" and the way the program is set up the kids still receive money regardless of whether they make gains or not. Furthermore, it is not unusual for grade inflation with Capital Gains ... because the schools get a certain amount of money for participating in the program. The grades entered DO not match the actual student grades..

Posted by: NewDCPSTeacher | March 16, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

To Phil Marlowe:
You need to lighten up, fella. Among posters on this blogue, efavorite for sure, and you, to a lesser degree, have excellent grasp of the available data on lots of issues. It was a passing compliment, for goodness sake. Forget that I asked sincerely for your opinion--and got hostile emotions for doing that.

Posted by: axolotl | March 16, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

One thing for's keeping the children at Shaw beyond the school's scope. To my understanding that Shaw will have 10th graders next year. Why move on to a traditional high-school with no pay-incentives if your current middle-school keeps adding on to the grade levels. I thought it was to be pay-for-grades and not for pay-to-stay.

It's just confusing that we are willing to keep students in a facility that is beyond acceptable....but have the lure of pay-for-grades being the attractive model. Now, we are told that a 74 million dollar renovation of a high-school will not accept 9th graders because it appears that the incoming principal "wants" to have a year of just planning. I don't care how much DCPS invest...the students still get the short-end of the stick.

Posted by: PowerandPride | March 17, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Nobody has shown the public any problems with Guy Brandenburg's analyses (in multiple ways) of the churning-principal phenomenon. The only critique that has been given on his blog so far was two comments by "ironskeptic" (or something like that), and unfortunately that criticism was just about 100% off the mark.

If there is an actual problem with the analysis, then please point out exactly where it is. Just saying it's "misspecified" and "nonsense" doesn't make it so. You need some evidence.

Similarly, when Michelle Rhee claims that her new principal appointees are achieving gains way above the average of the veteran principals, that doesn't necessarily make it so, either. In fact, one thing that Brandenburg has done is to show that Rhee's claims on that (as on many other things) are demonstrably false.

In any case, with regards to the Capital Gains program, Bill Turque really should have provided a link to Brandenburg's blog pages where he has carefully analyzed the actual one-year test-score data and published it. I don't know anybody else who has attempted to do so. If there are such analyses, I think the public should be told about them, too. After all, we are spending a lot of tax dollars on this demonstrably-failed program.

BTW, I am Guy Brandenburg, and I approve of this message. Maybe I should stop referring to myself in the 3rd person.

Posted by: TexasIke59 | March 17, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

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