Monday, July 19, 2010

Economist's Notebook: Paying Students for Grades

I am about to go off on another short vacation, but this one will be without the internets (and phone, and cell phone and television and newspaper) so no posting until Friday after this post today.

And no time for a proper blog post today except for a quick comment on a Susan Neilsen column on Sunday about paying students for achievement.  In her column she is skeptical (but I am not sure that anyone has seriously suggested this as a state-wide policy, have they?) and mentions some disappointing results from a Harvard econ prof.  That prof would be Ronald Fryer and he has indeed had poor results from paying disadvantaged students for good grades.

What is interesting is something Steve Coate told me recently when I had lunch with him and three other present and former Cornell faculty who were all in town to attend the Western Econ Assoc. Annual Conference.  Steve had recently had a visiting prof. stint at Harvard and recalled that, during a conversation, Fryer had explained that the problem with paying kids for results is that they don't understand the production function.  What he meant by that is that it is no good paying kids to get As when they have no idea how to go about earning As.  What you have to do, Steve recalled him saying, is pay them for the process of learning, like some money for reading ten pages of a textbook.  Apparently there is some division among Harvard faculty about whether this is Fryer's opinion or what the data say themselves, but I found it interesting and reasonable.  Let's just say that it sounds notional and there may not yet be the data to support the theory.

Okay, that's all I got.  See you on Friday.