What money doesn't appear to be buying

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Financial carrots seem to work when they align with the goals of both employers and employees. So how do we make them work in education to improve student achievement? So far the answer is elusive.

To date, schools have tried incentivizing students for both improved grades (result: little to no effect on student achievement) and good behavior (result: moderate effects). Incentives have also had little impact on teachers in efforts to boost student test scores.

With these largely failed efforts as the jumping-off point, Harvard economist Roland Fryer has tried a new idea in which students, teachers and even parents were all incentivized around a clear-cut goal: getting students to utilize a software program to improve their performance in mathematics.

The results are interesting but rather predictable. Students' math performance did improve, but it was at the expense of their reading performance. It also had little impact on students' levels of intrinsic motivation and effort, at least as measured by students' survey results. While students tried harder when there was cash to be earned, they didn't seem to gain any real sense of accomplishment from their success that made them want to work harder once the financial carrots were withdrawn.