Harvard Professor’s Novel Proposal to Pay Public School Students Who Do Well on Standardized Tests

Roland Fryer Jr., an assistant professor of economics and associate director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, has proposed a novel idea to boost black students’ scores on standardized tests: pay them for high scores.

Professor Fryer is organizing an incentive program for students in the New York City public school system. Students in fourth and seventh grade in the city’s schools will be required to take a new set of standardized tests this fall. Fryer proposes that fourth-graders who score well get at least $5, with the top scorers receiving $25. For seventh-graders, the maximum reward would rise to $50. Money would be raised from private sources to pay the students’ rewards.

Dr. Fryer believes that students from white, two-parent families in the suburbs generally are encouraged to learn and do well in school by their families and peers. But often similar encouragement is lacking for children in inner-city schools. Students in these schools have difficulty with the concept that if they work hard now, it will benefit them many years later. By adding an immediate monetary incentive, Fryer believes large numbers of students will be motivated to do well on these tests.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not approved the plan but after hearing the Fryer proposal said, “If we aren’t looking at everything, shame on us.”