The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Incentives for academic success?

In an article titled "Eyes on the Prize: Offering Incentives Boosts Attendance and Test Scores" (link here), Heather Knight of the San Francisco Chronicle highlights an incentive program at a high-poverty school whereby students can earn prizes for things such as good attendance and good behavior. Prizes range from plastic bracelets to new bikes, with students either earning enough tickets to purchase these items or by them becoming eligible to participate in a raffle for some high-ticket items.

This type of initiative is controversial, with critics saying that students aren't developing a love of learning, but rather a love of prizes, and these sorts of external rewards will never instill values and behaviors into students. Alfie Kohn, author of "Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes," says:

"How can we nourish kids' natural curiosity and desire to learn? What does it
say about homework that children dread doing it and rarely find it of value?"
Kohn said. "You know, to answer those questions, to make school meaningful for
students, takes time and talent and courage. But you don't need any of those
things to toss kids a doggie biscuit when they jump through our hoops."

Personally, I see these types of programs in a positive light. Malcolm X Academy, the school highlighted in the article, sits in a high-poverty area where parents typically don't reinforce the value of education. I can see the need for an external motivator to encourage kids to show up and pay attention: after all, if they don't come to school and don't behave, you have no chance of engaging them.

However, implementing a program like this should be the beginning, not the end, of your work. These programs don't preclude the need to find ways to bring children into the learning process; they simply help you retain access to the kids while you continue to work with them to teach them the value and benefits of education.

I've heard of these kinds of programs on occasion, but haven't uncovered any data demonstrating their value - it would be great to see some information on whether kids who participated in these programs had different dropout rates, grades, or academic outcomes than kids who didn't. Just one more area in which we need information and not supposition...


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