Watch the Incentives

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In Slate today, Alexandra Starr has a marvelous take on those notoriously low test scores among American high-schoolers:

You could conclude from these exams that American high-schoolers are ill-taught and ill-prepared for the competitive global economy. But what if you look at these tests like a capitalist rather than an educator? Nothing is at stake for kids when they take the international exams and the NAEP. Students don’t even learn how they scored. And that probably affects their performance. American teenagers, in other words, may not be stupid. It could be that when they have nothing to gain (or lose), they’re lazy.

True enough. In a similar vein, one of the most innovative proposals that I’ve ever heard for boosting scores—and, one would hope, actual learning—among students in low-performing schools also involves incentives. What if students simply got paid for getting good grades? Recently, Roland Fryer, Jr., an economist at Harvard has been trying to do just that with a pilot program in low-income public schools in the Bronx. Third-graders get $10 per good test, and seventh-graders $20. Some have objected that this would mean the death of “learning for its own sake,” but come on. A number of well-off parents reward their kids for doing well in school; this is no different, really.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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