Economist Roland Fryer was concerned about the fate of students in America’s inner-city schools, and he had a crazy idea—could financial incentives influence the behavior of students, teachers, and parents? A natural enough question to be posed by an economist, but Freire was shocked by how many had financial incentives in education. repellent What gives, he asked? Middle-class parents won’t all the time???

Freire and a dedicated team set out to find out how they can improve outcomes for the nation’s most disadvantaged students, and in this episode, he discusses what they did and what they found with EconTalk host Russ Roberts.

During his research, Freire identified five characteristics of successful schools—what he called the “fundamental physics of learning.” These include 1) more time in school, 2) changing human capital strategies, 3) using data to inform instruction, 4) high-dose tutoring in small groups, and 5) a culture of high expectations. One of the most interesting parts of the dialogue is when Freire describes her grandmother’s reaction to her quest. As she exclaimed, “Why not them [all] doing it? Why is this revolutionary?” you Does it feel revolutionary? Can it be replicated? why is not Is every school doing it? let’s hear yours Use the prompts below to reply to thought comments or start your own conversation offline

1- Fryer and his colleagues found that generally, paying students for output did not work, but paying for input did. What does this mean in practice? How were Freire and his colleagues able to measure the price elasticity of incentives offered to their students? Again, what does this mean in practice? And perhaps most importantly, why did Fryer make this result? less Concerned about fostering the “love of learning” in these students? how you Feeling about this claim?

2- Although Roberts reminds us all that implementing results like Freire’s is never easy, why? can’t Do we create a McDonald’s-like template (or a “popcorn” button) for education reform? Or in other words, how you Fryer’s grandmother answered?

3- Roberts asks Freire what one thing he would advise a failing school principal to do. What is the “one-two punch” Fryer suggests, and to what extent do you think it’s a reasonable suggestion?

4- Fryer notes the tremendous variation in charter school success, which makes them interesting research subjects. That is, although on average charter schools perform slightly better than traditional public schools, some fare a lot Well, and others a lot Poor Roberts asks Fryer, should charter schools expand? How would you rate Freire’s answer? how you The answer?

5- Both Roberts and Freire acknowledge frustration with the way we typically talk about parents and schools in poor neighborhoods. What kind of underlying prejudices does this type of conversation reveal? What does Fryer mean when he says that what we observe about the way poor parents like schools is more an information problem than a choice problem? How can we change the course of education reform if we change our approach to such decisions?

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