In a post last week Incentive Intelligence gave the thumbs down on a program that paid teachers a bonus for not taking sick days. Today we've got a few other links that fall into the education arena.
Should We Pay Students for Grades?
Providing incentives to students for getting good grades or doing homework is a polarizing discussion. Faithful followers may remember my posts (here and here) on Alfie Kohn and his research that "proves" extrinsic rewards actually decrease intrinsic motivation. I'm not arguing with Mr. Kohn since he has a couple extra letters after his name and all I've got is 25 years experience seeing positive results from incentive programs, but I do think that there are times when incentives may make sense in a school environment.
The Freakonics blog highlighted a Stephen Colbert interview with Roland Fryer (Harvard Economics Professor) who is experimenting with cash incentives for students in what I would call "at risk" situations. Click through for the video here... (Roland Fryer on the Colbert Report.) His plan calls for paying students $50 per class for an A and reducing the payout as the grades do down. In the interview he says that it is in its infancy and they don't have the results yet.
I believe that the students we're talking about in this situation have more pressure to get out of school than the need to get the most out of school. When you're talking about low income and inner-city students you have a different set of circumstances - and the money just may make the difference between staying and leaving. Anyone who tells you cash doesn't motivate is probably selling a catalog or a trip. However, whether in this situation or in your own business, there are many places that cash is the preferred award vehicle - I think this is one of them.
The comments on the post are enlightening and whether you agree or disagree, it's interesting to see how people in most cases are dead set against it. I'll bet that in most cases, the commenters are not part of the group that the incentive is targeting. It's nice to take the high moral ground - but I'm going to bet that the program actually keeps more kids in the system than before.
Then there's this link on the same site about using rewards of cell phones and cell phone minutes for performing students. I found it interesting that the comments were more about teachers having to answer the text messages and wondering who will pay for them than really disagreeing about the concept of giving phones and free minutes as an incentive. I guess since it's not cash it's less of a problem? Again, anything that will encourage students who typically wouldn't interact with their teachers to do so, I'm all for.
I Don't Need No Stinkin' Incentive
And finally...from the Pensacola New-Journal 340 teachers opted OUT of a merit pay program - 160 less than last year.
The big point of this article was that less teachers opted out of the merit program in which teachers could earn more money if they hit specific goals and objectives. I find if a little disconcerting that some teachers would not want to earn more money by achieving goals - and I find it a bit weird that the system is designed to allow them to opt out. But I think opting out of the program is really a symptom of something deeper.
I think this speaks to the helplessness the teachers must feel. What the teachers are saying is that even with their best efforts, the students can't or won't perform, so their behaviors and efforts have little effect on the outcome that will ultimately drive their reward. If they don't feel like they have any control on the outcome there isn't much "incentive" to play the game.
Keep that in mind when you run your own programs - if you see a lack of participation it may indicate that your audience knows they really can't achieve the goals established by the program.
That should point you toward other factors of non-performance - process or policy - not motivation.