What do I think I'll find when we look throw a measure of poverty into the mix? Honestly, I'm not sure. If ethnicity and gender are any indicators, then I should find nothing. Judging by some recent news, however, I think the public at large is under the assumption that students of poverty are oriented toward motivational behaviors at school based on rewards and punishments (as opposed to learning for the sake of learning). There is indication that paying for grades does lead to increased scores on high-stakes tests.
An overwhelming number of schools participating in a controversial program that pays kids for good grades saw huge boosts -- up to nearly 40 percentage points higher -- in reading and math scores this year, a Post analysis found.
About two-thirds of the 59 high-poverty schools in the Sparks program -- which pays seventh-graders up to $500 and fourth-graders as much as $250 for their performance on a total of 10 assessments -- improved their scores since last year's state tests by margins above the citywide average.
The gains at some schools approached 40 percentage points.
For example, at PS 188 on the Lower East Side, 76 percent of fourth-graders met or exceeded state benchmarks in English -- 39.6 percentage points higher than last year, when the kids were in third grade.
At MS 343 in The Bronx, 94 percent of seventh-graders met or surpassed state standards in math this year -- 37.3 points higher than last year, when the students were sixth-graders.
In all, of the 61 fourth and seventh grades involved in the pupil-pay program, only 16 improved less than the citywide average gain in math since last year, while 21 did so in reading.
Principals at the highest-scoring schools cautioned that the Sparks program was just one of many factors in the test-score jumps.
But many reported seeing indisputable academic benefits -- including more motivation, better focus and an increase in healthy competition for good grades among students.
"It's an ego booster in terms of self-worth," said Rose Marie Mills, principal at MS 343 in Mott Haven, where nearly 90 percent of students qualify for federal poverty aid.
"When they get the checks, there's that competitiveness -- 'Oh, I'm going to get more money than you next time' -- so it's something that excites them."
More than 8,000 kids have collectively earned $1.25 million since September in the second year of the privately funded pilot program.
The higher the kids score on tests, the more they get paid: up to a maximum of $50 per test for seventh-graders and up to $25 for fourth-graders.
The initiative, created by Harvard University economist Roland Fryer, is run out of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Educational Innovation Laboratory (EdLabs), which is conducting similar cash-for-kids trials in Chicago and Washington, DC.
Critics argue that paying kids corrupts the notion of learning for education's sake alone.
But supporters of student incentives say immediate rewards are necessary to help some kids connect the dots between school and future income -- and the students agree.
Alize Cancel, a 13-year-old at IS 286, spent some of the $180 she has earned this year on school supplies and shoes.
"It's all we talk about. Every day we ask our teachers, 'Did we pass? When do we get paid?' " she said. "It made me study more because I was getting paid."
The students that I will be studying for my dissertation do not receive external rewards/punishments (at least not through the school system)...so I have to wonder if the personal motivational levels they bring to the school show that would engage more if money was dangled in front. I hope that isn't the case---Pollyanna here would like to think that learning is its own reward, no matter your background.