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Scaling up motivation campaigns could cost millions

A number of privately-financed education programs have turned public in recent years, the latest example being Chancellor Klein’s move to create a new, taxpayer-financed principal-training program modeled on the New York City Leadership Academy.

Is something similar in store for Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s motivation programs, which pay students for good attendance, behavior, and grades? Fryer first piloted this kind of program here in New York, and is now testing the idea in multiple cities through the philanthropically-funded Educational Innovation Laboratory.

Chester Finn, head of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, estimates it could take $187.5 million for Chicago to scale up the program to all middle school students. Following his lead, I calculated how much it would cost New York to pay every middle school student a cash reward every two weeks based on their school performance.

With slightly fewer than 200,000 students in middle school grades, the city could wind up spending nearly $300 million per year if all students earned the full $1,500 being offered in the Washington, D.C.’s program. Even if each middle school student earned only $500, the going rate for good test scores in New York, it could still cost almost $100 million annually.

What kind of results would Fryer have to show to justify the expense, I wonder?

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