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Over the past 15 years, we've seen a decline in the performance of Australian school students on international tests. On the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Australia ranks a disappointing 20th in mathematics and 12th in reading. However you feel about standardised tests like NAPLAN and PISA, it certainly isn't good news that we're falling behind internationally.
Over the same period, there has also been a revolution in education research through the use of randomised controlled trials to assess the effectiveness of different education policies. All manner of things have been tried – everything from smaller class sizes to intensive tutoring. And now paying kids to learn.
Coauthors - Sets - Experiments - Houston - Texas
My coauthors and I did just that in two sets of experiments in Houston, Texas and Washington, D.C. We found if kids are paid for things such as attendance, good behaviour, short-cycle tests, and homework they were 1% more likely to go to school, committed 28% fewer behavioural infractions, and were 13.5% more likely to finish their homework.
This led to a big increase in kids performing at a proficient level in mathematics and reading. This cost money – we distributed roughly AU$7 million in incentives to 6,875 kids. But measured financially, the approach where we gave students money for a number of things (such as behaviour, attendance and academic tasks) produced a 32% annual return on investment.
Houston - Graders - Maths - Problems - Parents
In Houston, we paid 1,734 fifth graders to do maths homework problems. We paid the parents too, if their child did their homework.
Some 50 schools were given educational software that fit in with the curriculum. Half (25) of those schools were randomly selected to be in the "treatment group". This group of school kids got AU$2.80 per homework problem they mastered. Parents of the children got AU$2.80 per problem mastered, and teachers were eligible for bonuses of up...
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