Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Education Incentives can Help End Low Expectations
Behavioral psychologists and economists long have considered incentives to be a normal part of human nature, but applying them to education still stokes controversy.

For example, some people recoil at the idea of  paying kids and their teachers for high scores on advanced-placement tests that get students college credit in high school, as some schools in Northern Virginia are doing,

It sounds so … mercenary. Exchanging money for good performance? Handing out filthy lucre to reward a personally fulfilling and enriching achievement? Why, it almost sounds like the Grammys, or the World Series, or even a job. Nobody except the most Puritan-minded thinks any of these occupations or rewards is anything but a celebration of excellence, or at the very least a job well done. Adults can accept money as a reward for high performance. There’s no reason children cannot do the same — except prejudice.

These low expectations are endemic in education, research confirms. It starts with the teachers.For several generations now, Americans have underestimated their children. Laws mostly bar children from taking even a small-time job until age 16. Kids can hardly ride their own bikes down to the park or corner store any more.

University of Missouri economist Cory Koedel has found education students get the highest grades but the easiest work of all college majors. A 2013 study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found teachers typically assign books at their students’ reading level, not their grade level. This means teachers frequently assign too-easy books, a problem that compounds as children move up grades. If fourth-grader Suzy gets third-grade rather than fourth-grade books to read, and so on up through the grades, she likely is to remain behind in reading for the rest of her life.

Washington, D.C., mother Mary Riner became disgusted with the low expectations at her daughter’s supposedly well-performing grade school. Fifth-grade Latin homework, for example, didn’t involve memorizing vocabulary or practicing verb tenses, but coloring Latin words. Yes, coloring — with a crayon. Riner responded by helping start a truly demanding school, called BASIS DC.

Low expectations don’t occur in a vacuum. They result from a set of expectations in our society, and they reinforce and verify those expectations as a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. A smart use of incentives offers one way to address this problem.

In their new book “Rewards: How to Use Rewards to Help Children Learn—and Why Teachers Don’t Use Them Well,” authors Herbert Walberg and Joseph Bast illustrate how positive reinforcement can help lift expectations and thus raise student performance.

They discuss how the attitudes of many in the education establishment are a barrier to putting to work the science that shows kids respond to incentives just like adults. They also explain that rewards are about far more than money — good teachers use simple rewards, such as stickers or praise, to help instill in children the longer-lasting internal rewards of satisfaction in learning and pride in a job well done.

Perhaps the biggest shocker may be the realization that incentives always will be embedded in education, regardless of whether people acknowledge their existence. If teachers reinforce learning with encouragement, recognition and grades, that’s an incentive. If teachers give students too-easy work because they expect every real academic challenge to raise complaints, that creates a very different set of incentives for both teachers and students.

Incentives will always exist in education. The question is, will educators harness this power for the students’ good?


British schools told: cash bribes 'fail to improve High School grades'

Schools are wasting thousands of pounds each year attempting to bribe pupils to try harder in exams, according to government-funded research.

In the biggest study of its kind, it was claimed that promising children cash rewards in exchange for higher levels of attendance, behaviour and homework led to increased effort in the classroom.

But the use of incentives had little “direct impact” on pupils’ ability to learn and failed to actually improve their GCSE scores in core academic subjects, it emerged.

The research, by academics from Bristol University and the University of Chicago, suggested that cash would be better spent improving teaching standards, particularly for children from poor homes.

The conclusions raise serious questions over tactics employed by schools across Britain that spend tens of thousands of pounds each year on elaborate reward schemes.

One popular scheme - Vivo Miles - allows pupils to accumulate points for good work and behaviour before cashing them in for rewards such as iPods, iTunes vouchers, digital watches, bike equipment and clothes.

It is used by around 500 secondary schools in the UK, with more than nine-in-10 saying it has aided academic performance and improved student motivation and behaviour.

Many parents also make similar promises, with a survey this summer suggesting that 38 per cent of pupils were offered cash incentives by mothers and fathers. This includes those promised laptops, holidays and even cars.

The latest study, which was commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation, a government-funded charity, said the use of incentives did lead to extra pupil effort in the classroom. The promise of one form of reward – an outing or school trip – also encouraged low-achieving pupils to score higher grades in maths.

But it said cash incentives generally led to “no significant improvements in GCSE results”.

Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF, which was established in 2011 with a £125m grant from the Department for Education, said: “The use of incentives in schools is not a new idea and can appear attractive to schools and parents who are trying to motivate their children.

“The study suggests that while incentives can increase effort in the classroom, their direct impact on learning is low. “

He added: “While incentives may change surface behaviours, what really makes the difference is how students are taught.

“The best evidence currently available suggests that the most powerful driver of achievement in schools is great teaching, particularly for students from low-income families.”

The research – evaluated by the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies – was based on a controlled trial of pupil incentives involving more than 10,000 pupils in 63 schools.

As part of the study, researchers ran two schemes with 15- and 16-year-old pupils studying for their GCSEs in English, maths and science. One involved pupils being promised £80 at the end of each half-term, which was reduced by £10 for poor attendance or behaviour and a further £30 if they underperformed in homework or in class.

In the second, pupils were given eight tickets up front for an outing or event each half-term and lost them for poor behaviour or work. A third set of pupils was denied both sets of incentives – acting as a control group.

The trial found no significant overall impact on GCSE results from either set of incentives. There was some improvement in classwork, but this did not translate into significantly better results in the three subjects measured.

The only small effect was associated to the use of trips for pupils with poor previous results in maths, who gained the equivalent of two months’ progress over the course of a year.

This suggested positive effects in relation to “loss aversion” – when pupils have money or promised activities given to them and then taken away, rather than simply being offered a prize at the end of the process.


Australia:  Federal district grabs chaplain funding for schools

The ACT government will be forced to accept religious-only conditions on school chaplain funding from the federal government.

This leaves the jobs of 25 secular school welfare workers in doubt, with the ACT government saying while it will try to absorb as many as possible under existing school funding arrangements, this cannot be guaranteed.

The federal government was forced to redesign its $244 million National School Chaplain Scheme after the High Court ruled it invalid in June. Under the new arrangements the federal government will fund state and territory governments to administer the scheme.

In August, ACT Education Minister Joy Burch said the ACT would demand secular workers were included and for the existing arrangements funding 56 school welfare workers and chaplains to be continued.

Victoria, WA, the Northern Territory and Tasmania, however, accepted the scheme as is in late September, somewhat scuttling chances of other states to negotiate to include secular welfare workers.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education Scott Ryan gave the rest of the state and territory education ministers until last Friday to accept the funding.

Ms Burch wrote to Mr Ryan on Friday saying the ACT would accept the funding and she was "disappointed" the Commonwealth did not agree to the inclusion of secular counsellors.

"Requiring that these schools apply for a religious-based chaplain without the option for a secular worker is inconsistent with the principles in which they are based," the letter read.

In a final effort to limit increased religious influence in public schools, Ms Burch is urging the federal government to not make provision for new religious chaplains to be appointed.

"It is the ACT government's position that...public schools participation will be limited to seeking funding to continue employing individual chaplains already in the program," Ms Burch wrote.

As of May there were 22 chaplains and 14 secular welfare workers funded in the federal chaplain program in ACT public schools.

Mr Burch said the territory would comply with the scheme's condition to form a cross-sector public, private and Catholic school panel to help administer the scheme.

The panel will be responsible for selecting the reduced number of 47 schools to receive religious chaplains.


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