Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pay for Grades

Below is an abstract of a study I blogged about earlier. Basically, paying people improves how well they do in a test of political knowledge. Clearly they are motivated by the cash.

Okay ... so?

A fad of late has been paying kids to do better in school. This makes sense, especially now that I think of it in terms of the study below. If all the other ways of increasing motivation fail (family pressure, peer pressure, the hopes of a good job, the joy of learning for the sake of learning) then why not pay the little darlings to get good grades? In this era of accountability (i.e., no child left untested), this strikes me as a very American approach. Cold, hard cash. The invisible hand. Money talks.

I'm serious. Why not?

The study abstract follows.

Surveys provide widely cited measures of political knowledge. Do seemingly rbitrary features of survey interviews affect their validity? Our answer comes from experiments embedded in a representative survey of over 1200 Americans. A
control group was asked political knowledge questions in a typical survey context. Treatment groups received the questions in altered contexts. One group received a monetary incentive for answering the questions correctly. Another was given extra time. The treatments increase the number of correct answers by 11–24%. Our findings imply that conventional knowledge measures confound respondents' recall of political facts with variation in their motivation to exert effort during survey interviews. Our work also suggests that existing measures fail to capture relevant political search skills and, hence, provide unreliable assessments of what many citizens know when they make political decisions. As a result, existing knowledge measures likely underestimate people's capacities for informed decision making.

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