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Study shows paying kids for good grades, behavior is working

The first results of the District's experiment with paying middle schoolers who produce good grades and behavior are now available.They show that the kids helped most are those with serious behavioral problems. Details of the four-city project, led by Harvard Roland Fryer are disclosed in the new Time magazine.

The cover piece by Amanda Ripley doesn't offer a lot of detail about the DCPS portion, but it does say that the results involving about 2,700 middle school kids "contain one remarkable finding: the kids who were helped the most by the experiment were the ones who are normally among the hardest to reach."

Fryer tells Ripley: "The typical reform helps girls more than it helps boys. [This] is the opposite. In D.C., all the results are being driven by the boys. That's fascinating."

Ripley adds: "Kids with a history of serious behavioral problems saw the biggest gains in test scores overall. Their reading scores shot up 0.4 standard deviations, which is roughly the equivalent of five additional months of schooling."

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By Bill Turque  |  April 9, 2010; 9:52 AM ET
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OK, what about character development? What about learning how to set personal goals and having aspirations. I guess the parents have just dismissed their responsibilities.

So what happens after the money stops? Teaching kids to be money motivated is much different from realizing the need for money.

As a parent I instilled standards without paying my kids. I recall as a child, my classmates used to brag about getting money for A's and B's on their report card. I was clueless to the concept, and thought 'all man, my father owes me money for my good grades.' I honestly remember thinking i was missing out on what other parents did for their kids. I was entitled to this pay. So when i approached my father about the $ i should get for my report card, i still recall getting shot down. My father told me "why should I pay you for what you are supposed to do for yourself. Why should you go to school to be a dummy and not learn anything. You should get A's.' I did not know it at the time, but the man was raising me to have some character. I give my own kids the same type discussions. I hope these kids are getting that lesson.

Posted by: oknow1 | April 9, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

How come Time Magazine seems to have details on the Capital Gains program in DC and no one in DC has any information about its efficacy? Hasn't the Council, the Post and every parent with a kid getting paid to do what's expected of them been asking for results. Bill, haven't you been asking?

Posted by: horacemann | April 9, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

It worked a little different in my home regarding pay and grades. Had I come home with bad grades - i'd have hell to pay!!! That plan seem to have worked very well as I NEVER came home with bad grades.

Posted by: missboo | April 9, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

It's not clear: did Roland Fryer and co. sponsor the program and do the study? If so, it's hard to take these results seriously.

Posted by: peteyamama1 | April 9, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

This might cause kids to get better grades or behave better...but they are missing the point. What are we teaching our kids?Just throwing money at something never creates long term solutions. No wonder this generation feels so entitled. They think that being good and doing well will get them rewards or money. These kids need to learn that behaving and working hard should be for yourself and you are not necessarily entitled to money and/or rewards. What happens when they get out in the real world and no one is throwing money at them to do well and behave?

Posted by: cassie123 | April 9, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I think this program might be good. This is for kids who don't have any evidence that school pays off. Not everybody has parents saying that school is important at home.

Posted by: celestun100 | April 9, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I find this really hard to believe as my child is in a school with Capital Gains. The kids never get the reports on what they are getting paid for, no one even talks about it anymore. The checks just get deposited. To the kids who need the most help, they don't really seem to care if they get $32 as opposed to $80. My child says that everyone thinks it's a total joke, even the kids who initially (last year) were on their best behavior for the first couple of months have fallen in the "I guess if I get a little money, that's good enough" mode. Several parents at our school requested to know the methodology, rubric, etc. behind this "study" and have not been given anything. The "evaluation" of the study consisted of a teacher asking the kids if they liked capital gains or not, and would they want to do it again. Not surprisingly, all the kids said yes. That study is completely bogus and without any real numbers to justify it.

Posted by: citymom92 | April 9, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Guy Brandenburg, a former math teacher at Deal, has been trying to figure out the results from DCCAS testing given the schools of the program.

So far, Dr Fryer has refused to even tell him which schools are in the control group and which are in the test group. Given the information that Mr. Brandenburg has (based on articles about the program), the two groups are not demographically balanced, and the schools in each group showed almost no difference in performance.

I hope there was some success, but I want to see real data before I believe it.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | April 9, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Great thing to teach kids. So much for doing well for it's own sake.

Posted by: jckdoors | April 9, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

If this is all we have to do, why have charter schools?

Posted by: jckdoors | April 9, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Amen, Missboo.

Believe me that was a paycheck you can still remember.

Posted by: fmurray20011 | April 9, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

celestun100 good point. By providing money for good grades, it provides for the student as well as the parent that education has value. I believe that the parents of these children one, have a real reference that the children can see and receive a benefit almost immediate. Also for those parents that are not involved the money know gets them excited about there children making better grades. Although I am not a for using rewards as a catalyst for motivating students long term. I do think that used sparingly throughout K-12 can lead to students setting goals and becoming self motivating.

Posted by: klondikebill | April 9, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

There ya go - set the kids up for skipping college for a job cause they want that money... great idea...

Posted by: rockettonu | April 9, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

But, this wasn't the basis for funding, and it doesn't test the original hypothesis which helped Fryer display alleged briliance meriting early tenure. Along with Levitt of Freakonomics fame (and wealth from best-seller book sales) Fryer was interested in whether and how frankly "ghetto" behavior and self-labeling affected outcomes in white bourgois society; and then whether the dysfunctional peer-effects could be overwhelmed by behavioral remodeling, creating new peer groups with behavior following approved norms. (Find a conversation Tim Harford reports with Fryer in Harford's "Underground Economists" and in this column:

Question: So what the hell does this mean?
Answer: That the test of the payments cannot have been conducted unless Fryer has found that kids who changed their behavior with receipt of payments subsequently retained their new pro-school habits, and did so with new peers. Finding that pro-school behaviors which were immediately tied to rewards proves nothing. That was merely the stimulus, the discovery by the pigeons that pressing the bar releases the food pellets.
Now, it can't be surprising that middle schoolers who came to school and did all their homework learned more. If it were otherwise, the school should be closed. The test is whether those who learned the behavior-reward connection continued to learn after the stimulus ended.

But, none of these reports should be trusted as true until the research has been peer reviewed.

Posted by: incredulous | April 9, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Amanda Ripley's report about which group did better on what seems to be materially false.

Fryer has promised to have some sort of discussion with me (Guy Brandenburg) in a few weeks, but his list of 17 un-named schools getting payments and 17 other un-named schools not doing so appears to be a figment of his imagination.

I found that there was essentially no difference in the overall changes of percentages of students scoring "proficient" or better in reading or math on the DC-CAS, which was essentially the only information that I could obtain. As I wrote in my blog, (

"The control group started out and finished with higher scores in both reading and math; the two groups had major demographic differences as well — all signs of a poorly-planned experiment.

"The [percentage of students scoring 'proficient' or higher in the] control group went up by 0.6% in reading; the [percentage of students scoring 'proficient' or higher in the] experimental group went down by 1.9%. (Not big changes in either case, in my opinion).
"The [percentage of students scoring 'proficient' or higher in the] control group went down by 0.8% in math; the [percentage of students scoring 'proficient' or higher in the] experimental group went up by 2.5%. (Almost the mirror image of what happened in reading).
"My opinion? Not a significant result either way."

In any case, I wonder how on earth Dr. Fryer got to correlate the reading scores of students with serious behavioral problems? And if he really did so, why has he only shared this information with Ms. Ripley and not even with the DC City Council when he met with them a few weeks ago?

The more I learn about this, the more dubious I become.

Posted by: TexasIke59 | April 10, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse

There’s a print edition of this article in today’s paper. I suggest some of the people posting here, post there as well, so your comments will be seen by more people.

Posted by: efavorite | April 10, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

From the print article:
"As to why these student groups performed the way they did, Fryer can't say."

"Overall, the awards showed only a "marginally significant" effect on standardized reading test scores. Effects on math test scores were not statistically significant."

"He also said the "balance" of the sample was not ideal."

"Neither Fryer nor District officials could name the schools Friday or explain why they chose not to participate. "

Hardy MS.

Based on these quotes, this experiment doesn't seem of much value.
A good show, though.

Posted by: edlharris | April 10, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

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