At our first faculty meeting of the year, before school started, one of the items that came up was funding for our after-school “math lab” aimed at kids who are having “math issues.” (Don’t most all middle-schoolers have math issues? Just saying.)

The math teachers were complaining that the kids who get sent there for not doing their math homework, or the ones who are forced to go by their well-meaning parents, are the ones, even though they probably need the help the most, are the ones who are getting the least benefit out it.

“They don’t want to be there, they disrupt, they don’t bring their stuff, they don’t listen.”

Let’s see, they’re in junior high. They hate math, and are failing, and someone is making them sit through more math. Hmmm.

Now I’ve never been a fan of rewards in my class. I don’t give out candy, I don’t give prizes or incentives for good behavior or for turning in homework regularly. We don’t have class parties or anything like that. I offer some extra credit for going above and beyond, but that’s about as far as I go. No stickers, Weepuls, or nights off homework. (Although I do offer a one-night-off-KBAR incentive for getting a 10/10 rating from a substitute, balanced of course by the stick of  “I must be obedient and respectful for the guest teacher” 50 times by everyone for any rating less than 8. I’m kind of old-school that way.  And I have to say that the penalty part of that has proven far more effective than the reward part. Especially if one class makes the mistake of serving as an example for the others.)

When it comes to cash money incentives however, I think it might be a whole ‘nother matter.

A while back I read a Time article (I know, it’s weird that they’re still around) about an education researcher who experimented with paying kids to do better in school. His results were rather surprising.

He tried it in four cities: Chicago, Washington DC, New York, and Dallas, and in each city he tried a different plan.

The NYC kids (4th and 7th graders) took ten “benchmark” sort of tests per year, and, “fourth-graders could earn a maximum of $25 per test, and seventh-graders could earn up to $50 per test.” Most of them also opened savings accounts for directly depositing the money.

The ChiTown kids were 9th graders, and were paid for their class grades: “$50 for each A, $35 for a B and $20 for a C, up to $2,000 a year. But half of their earnings would be set aside in an account, to be redeemed only upon high school graduation.”

“In Washington, middle schoolers would be paid for a portfolio of five different metrics, including attendance and good behavior. If they hit perfect marks in every category, they could make $100 every two weeks.

“Schools in Dallas got the simplest scheme and the one targeting the youngest children: every time second-graders read a book and successfully completed a computerized quiz about it, they earned $2. Straightforward — and cheap. The average earning would turn out to be about $14 (for seven books read) per year.”

You should read the rest of the article yourself, but the Washington and Dallas experiments worked the best. It looks like if you give the kids something concrete and specific to do to improve their learning (read more books), and “incentivize” them to do it, you can get results. Fourteen bucks a year per kid (Dallas) seems like a small price to pay.

Delaware is even paying parents to go to things like Open House and parent/teacher conferences, and Houston is piloting a program where 5th graders and their parents can bag over a grand for stepping up in math.

Back to the faculty meeting…

(me) “How much does it cost to run math lab for a year?”

“I don’t know…$3,000-4,000?”

“How many kids passed or raised their grades due to math lab?”


“How many kids are in there on an average day?”

“Maybe 10 or 15?”

“Aren’t they usually mostly the same kids?”


“I’d bet that if we took that 3 grand and divvied it up into “incentives,” we would see more bang for our buck. I’m thinking I could get those kids to do just about anything, even math homework, for 150-200 dollah.”

Oh, haha, that Mr. Coward is going off again.

What do you think?