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New Study Shows That Paying Students For Higher Test Scores Doesn’t Work


Last September, I wrote a post titled Conditional Cash Transfers, Parents, And Schools in my other blog, Engaging Parents In School. It talked about a new program that was becoming fashionable called conditional cash transfers. These are payments made to families to encourage them to do things like go to doctor appointments, and to children for increased school attendance and higher standardized test scores.

In my post, I shared that, though I thought these funds could be used more effectively to fight poverty in other ways, I really couldn’t complain about putting a few more bucks in the hands of poor families — for non-school related efforts. I wrote about how I thought it was damaging to children and schools when it was connected to education benchmarks, and my post connected to studies that showed that. In another post, I wrote more specifically about my objections to paying students for increased test scores.

New York City had started a heralded, and expensive, conditional cash transfer program heavily focused on school-related objectives. The program just announced the results of an evaluation of the program and it didn’t work, particularly for the school-related goals. They’re shutting it down. You can read about it in the New York Times article City to End Program Giving Cash to the Poor.

Surprise, surprise.

I wonder what the results would have been if they instead had put that $40 million into supporting family engagement efforts that do work, like teacher home visits to listen and build relationships, and connect parents with others who have similar concerns so they can act together on them; family literacy projects initiated and led by parents; the development of parent/school community gardens; and encouraging parent and school participation in community-wide organizing efforts to improve neighborhoods.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Seems like you’ve got a plan, Mr. F. Run for senate already! ;>

  2. I was always worried about what happens when the money for such incentive programs dries up–as it almost always does. That sends a particularly confusing message to students.

    There’s also research to show that cash incentives can do short-term good and long-term harm.

    Still, there are a few other studies in the field, so it will be interesting to see what they find out.

  3. With $40M, the city could’ve hired more attendance teachers to work with the existing 325 attendance teachers. If the city had hired 145 attendance teachers, at the end of the 5th years, attendance would improve especially in the high schools. Students would be given another chance to get their diploma.

    But the city always uses the money in such foolish ways that a person wonders why there’s so many unsuccessful programs. Common sense should rule, but the city doesn’t believe in that. They want quick fixes, immediate results, and get the accolades before anyone’s the wiser.

    $40M down the drain because the city has no brain!

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