Just what we need, another study from economists telling us how to make schools more effective (one released earlier this year concluded that “The message is to fire people sooner rather than later” ).

This new study, The Behavioralist Goes to School: Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Improve Educational Performance, has several authors, including Steven D. Levitt of Freakonomics fame.

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!

The Atlantic has an article about the study, which did have some interesting comments questioning some their statistical analyses (I’d love it if someone more familiar with statistics might take the time to review the paper — it only costs $5 to purchase it). Here’s how the article sums up the conclusions of the study:

This paper’s clever conclusion is that we can manipulate lessons from economics and psychology to trick/bribe/nudge students toward spending more from their attention budget on these tests.

Yup, that’s what we should be doing — not try to figure out how to help students motivate themselves. Instead, let’s emphasize Bribing students: Another ‘magical solution’ that doesn’t work.

And let’s make sure we place even more of an emphasis on standardized tests while we’re at it.

I’m sure readers agree we don’t do enough of that now….