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Part Two Of “Can’t Economists Stay Away From Schools?” — My Worst Fears Realized


Last week I posted Can’t Economists Stay Away From Schools? Don’t They Have Enough Other Things To Do?, a commentary on a new study on bribing students to work hard on tests that was written by, among others, the economist from Freakonomics.

There are many things wrong with this study, including the fact that, as huge amounts of prior research have demonstrated, the results don’t carry over to the future.

But, as I mentioned in my first post:

They wanted to see if students would try harder on a standardized test if they knew they would get cash or some kind of immediate reward if they improved on their results. They tried offering these rewards in a couple of different ways, but found the biggest test improvement would come if they gave the student the money ($20) or non-cash award before the test and then told them they would have to give it back if they didn’t score well.

Let me tell ya’, implementing that kind of policy would really help create a positive classroom culture!

Here’s an interview with one of the other authors of the study that appeared on Fox News, and not this part of the conversation — done when they are both laughing:

Q: The ones that did badly — did you rip it away from them and then did they scream and cry?

A: Yeah, it’s hard when you rip a trophy out of the hands of an eight year old.

You can read a post about it at Freakonomics, and you can now also access the study for free.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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


  1. So which of the related universities had the institutional review board that approved a study that allowed the researchers to take away trophies awarded to 8-year-olds (and make them cry)? Looks like University of Chicago, since the students were from “low- performing school districts in and around Chicago.” Nice.

  2. I am not a teacher, but I can’t imagine the reasoning nor even the ethical review board’s acceptance of such a procedure. If they had to do something like this, why not use tokens that can be applied to earned trophies once they earn enough points. If they lose something, they lose points rather than a prize already in their possession that has to be ripped from their hands.

    I personally think that people who want to fix education should work on school environments, child readiness and creating an atmosphere for education rather than focusing on standardized test improvements.

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