Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Business of Education

On Monday we talked about extrinsic incentives in schools and the idea of monetizing "success" in school. Here's a piece I wrote for the NPR affiliate WBEZ a couple years ago. (I used to be an education contributor to the program — and still am, perhaps!) Hopefully the audio and a written copy of the essay will appear on the screen.

Click to listen to John S. O'Connor's, "Bringing Business to the Classroom".

Have you witnessed such programs — within your family, your friends' families, other schools you've heard about?

NOTE: Here are links to the two videos mentioned in class: Dan Pink's "The Surprising Science of Motivation" and Jesse Schell's DICE talk on games, "Design Outside the Box".


DPark said...

Within my family, my parents promised us gifts for getting straight A's in middle school (6th-8th). In a way, this bribe was not the source of my motivation, it was like a little side effect that happened.

When you wrote "her father, a lawyer, presented her with a contract that read “I promise to work hard and get A's.'", I remembered that my brother set up a contract with my mom for practicing his cello a certain number of times a week. However, there is no prize or reward, she just set it up so he would practice.

In class, Mr. Bolos revealed that people tend to perform well when they are intrinsically motivated, not bribed by money or gifts.

But I don't think it's that simple. Many people's motivations is a complicated hybrid between extrinsic AND intrinsic forces.

Personally, I'm motivated to do Science Olympiad for my own expansion of knowledge and a possible full ride to UIUC. But my extrinsic motivation comes from the judgment of teammates.

Lizzy said...

In my family, we are not compensated for good grades. I used to think that I simply motivated myself to do well in school and that I tried to get good grades for myself, but after reading this post, watching the Jesse Schell DICE video, and discussing it in class, I have started to wonder if I am actually motivated by purely intrinsic reasons.
After reading what Danny said about peoples' motivation being a hybrid of intrinsic and extrinsic forces, I have formed my own hypothesis that when students are younger (probably grades 1-5 or 6) their motivation largely comes from their teachers or parents. Later, around 7th or 8th grade, students have become more self-sufficient and their intrinsic motivation starts to be the more important factor. It kind of turns into a nature vs. nurture sort of argument.
If this is true, the main issue with the payment for grades plan is the age group that it targets. However, I believe that the real problem is that the home lives of these students do not provide any inspiration to do well in school, and no child should be expected to compete with that.

StoneA said...

I really agree with your statement about monetary rewards making schoolwork school seem a tedious task. Young students will never develop passion for their studies if from day 1 their only incentive is extrinsic ($$$$$). Your podcast reminds me of two things. The first is an article concerning this very topic in the most recent edition of TIME magazine. The article opens by telling the story of a young boy with a TV addiction. His mother offered him $200 to go an entire month without watching TV. He accepted the offer and completed the task flawlessly, however, he proceeded to spend his earnings on a big television. I think the connection is quite clear. The second thing your podcast reminds me of is an entrepreneur who recently spoke to my business class (he created a mind controlled wheel chair, but i forgot his name). He said, "find something you love and then find someone who will pay you to do it". I think that when a young student sees he/she is being paid $50 for excellent results in math and only $20 for the other subjects, the student would naturally assume that he/she should pursue a career in math rather than find a job that he/she is genuinely interested in. Last note, I don't know anyone who has been bribed to do well is school.

nathans said...

There were some things you mentioned in the piece that were very reminiscent of instances with kids at New Trier. A friend of mine reached an agreement with his parents that if he hit a benchmark GPA, he would recieve new rackets for the upcoming tennis season.
As for me, I have no "contract", but it wouldn't be unlikely that at the end of an academically successful semester or year, that I magically find gift certificates on my desk and I can honestly say that this plays no role in level of effort in school. I really like the passage about the girl "padding her resume" to compensate of a B on her report card. If anyone's interested I blogged recently about Fryer's study and it explains the study a little more in depth. Also, I'll take that Hyundai if that girl didn't want it.

Zoe C. said...

Like Danny my parents also gave my brother and I money for grades. For every A that we got, my parents would give us money. And also like Danny it was not really a source of motivation. I am already a very motivated person, so being rewarded for my grades was just an added bonus. In some ways it did motivate me, because it was my only source of money, but if I was getting a B in a class, it just made me stressed instead of motivating me to do well. Sometimes there is just nothing you can do in a class to get a better grade, and since my parents only gave money for A's, I felt that my hard work never paid off in some classes. So I think it incentives in school can go both ways. It can either motivate the unmotivated students, or it can create unnecessary stress for the already motivated student.

Anna.S said...

I also was given a bribe for doing well in school. My mom told me, at the end of 1st semester Junior year, that I would receive a certain dollar amount for every A I got. I asked her if she was serious.

For me, I had a fairly across-the-board freshman year, with mostly B's, a few A's and one dastardly C+. My grades improved as I realized that they needed to improve, and so most of my motivation came from within. My college counselor praised my for having a steadily rising GPA, saying that colleges liked to see that (akin to the American Redemptive story, maybe).

At New Trier, you always hear tell of "the Pressure" of NTHS. Honestly, it should be capitalized the way people discuss it. It's like a disease you don't realize you have until you're covered in homework and are rereading your lab report while brushing your teeth. I even dream about homework. Of course, if the Pressure to "Do Well" actually does benefit you (or, more accurately, your GPA and college app) how far can you go to say that it is a bad thing? I have witnessed a few breakdowns, or people going close to it, and of course that is disturbing. But what about people who drill themselves to come home after a club/sport, and do homework until dinner, then do more and more homework?

Bribery is just the tip of the iceberg, there is a lot of internal motivation that you wouldn't see at first glance.

Ellie said...

I think that the idea of rewarding students with money for good grades is not effective. I think that the kids who would get the money would be those with good study habits, who are already internally motivated. I feel that SOME of the kids that don't have good study habits may try for the money, but may find that it’s not worth the time and effort and give up entirely. This reminds me of what you said in your article,

"By such measures, the educationally rich will get richer still by performing well as they always have on standardized tests, while those who struggle in school are left bankrupt"

I find it interesting that by trying to spread the "wealth" we end up doing the opposite. I think the only way extrinsic motivators can be successful is if it is paired with an intrinsic motivator.

Madelaine C said...

Although I have known people who have been paid for grades, my family has never given any sort of reward for a grade. My parents aren't as concerned with grades and many others at New Trier are. Instead of pressuring me or my brother or sister to do well in school, they leave that one up to us. They, of course, will help us out if need be but I have never felt pressure from my parents to get straight A's. That pressure comes from myself, and mostly from the other students at New Trier. Hearing other students talk about the seven AP classes they're talking or a ridiculously high ACT score is a far greater motivator for me than any monetary reward that my parents could give me. I think that the desire to succeed is far more motivational than any amount of money.

Maeli G. said...

I've definitely heard about these things, especially on the North Shore. Parents hope to motivate their children by using bribes, and because we're lucky enough to live in an affluent area, many of them can afford it. Cars, cash, and vacations are just a few of the most common forms of bait for academic success. What's unfortunate is that these types of things seldom succeed in promoting healthy academic growth. Few of the students who receive tangible rewards for good grades and good test scores develop a love of learning. Rather than striving to better themselves and to become more open-minded, well-informed, and prepared for the world beyond the classroom, they focus on the short-term benefits. It's sad when learning becomes a means by which students can attain the tangible items they crave instead of a chance to improve understanding of self and the rest of the world. There's no substance to that kind of education.

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T King said...

In my family, my parent's are guilty of motivating my brothers and I with cash and gifts as incentives for doing well in school. I think this was mostly done as a way to get us on the right track, because in middle and junior high school, the rewards were greater, and my brothers and I learned (or are trying to learn) good work ethic and the importance of a good education... et cetera. I think this worked, because for the most part I tend to motivate myself in most things I do, from school to running, I try to set goals and know what I want to accomplish and why. However, the more interesting thing is that in the King family, the thing that motivates us is sibling rivalry. My brothers and I are constantly competing to best eachother in all aspects of life. From Call of Duty, to running, to basketball, to academics... the rivalry never ends. After all, the only reason I started running, was to be better than my older brother before me, even though we compete in different events, he a sprinter, me a distance runner. And I know my younger brother, also a sprinter, wants to best our eldest's times. Anyway, the whole reason this sibling rivalry started is because our parents pushed us, and set us on track... and then we began to motivate ourselves and eachother- and the rest, folks, is history.