Incentives for Advanced Work Let Pupils and Teachers Cash In

By SAM DILLON
Published: October 2, 2011

Image Source: Evan McGlinn for The New York Times

WORCESTER, Mass. — Joe Nystrom, who teaches math at a low-income high school here, used to think that only a tiny group of students — the “smart kids” — were capable of advanced coursework.

But two years ago, spurred by a national program that offered cash incentives and other support for students and teachers, Mr. Nystrom’s school, South High Community School, adopted a come one, come all policy for Advanced Placement courses. Today Mr. Nystrom teaches A.P. statistics to eight times as many students as he used to, and this year 70 percent of them scored high enough to qualify for college credit, compared with 50 percent before. One in four earned the top score possible, far outpacing their counterparts worldwide.

They were helped by the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit network that provided laboratory equipment and special training for teachers and organized afternoon tutoring and Saturday sessions. It also paid $100 each to students who scored a 3 or above on the A.P. exam — and to their teachers, who can also earn additional rewards. Because 43 of his students passed the exam this year, far above his target, Mr. Nystrom will add a $7,300 check to his $72,000 salary.

Roland G. Fryer, a Harvard economist who won a MacArthur Foundation award last month for his research on educational incentives, said that cash alone did not consistently raise achievement, but that combining payments with tutoring, teacher training and other tactics could be promising.

Q: So what are your thoughts about incentivizing students? We have our own thoughts, as you’ll see when we start dropping details on our Academic Performance Platform, but we’d really like to know whether you think providing incentives for students is beneficial in the long term or not.

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