Paying for A's: An Early Exploration of Student Reward and Incentive Programs in Charter Schools

Margaret Raymond
Center for Research on Education Outcomes, Stanford University
April 2008

This study of the effectiveness of generalized student reward programs in charter schools is the first of its kind. Stanford analyst Margaret Raymond surveyed 186 charter schools and collected achievement data from 47 of them to determine whether employing various incentives--e.g., certificates of merit, college fund contributions, cash, for both academic and behavioral excellence--boosted student performance. The results were mixed but offer some cause for cheer. Overall, she found that using an incentive system is positively and significantly correlated with student achievement in reading, though not in math. However, her analysis also revealed that, when limited to the elementary school level, incentives lower performance. Raymond also ran analyses focusing on specific features of the programs that she measured. She found, for instance, that school incentive programs that secured the support of the principal, teachers, and staff were more effective in raising student achievement, as were those that operated in charter network schools, such as KIPP. The study carries a number of caveats, however. For one, all types of incentive programs--long-range and short-range, direct cash and scholarship--were lumped together. Also, when Raymond controlled for the neighborhoods where the schools were located (those in locales where many adults lack high school diplomas tend to offer more academic incentives), the positive correlations disappeared. Still, the study is a good launching point for future research on the topic, which is getting ever more attention around the land. Read it here.

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