Wednesday, June 20, 2007

NYC Turns Families to Rats

Some 2,500 families will soon enter New York City's Skinnerian public school rewards program. For children living at 130 percent of federal poverty level and below, the city will bribe them to attend school, go to parents-teacher conferences, get a library card, pass the Regents exam, and even to graduate.

Extrinsic motivation programs are proven to kill instrinic motivation as attention shifts to "how much are you going to pay me to do that joyless task?" External rewards lose their juice over time, often needing to be increased to have the same impact.

Expect any "improvements" from this program to be short lived and the long term consequences to be similar to stock option incentive plans over the last decade. Will 30% of poor students cheat to reap the prize like their CEO counterparts? Look for them all at the bar, pressing madly for the pellets. So much for the "wise leader" knowing the reward for doing the work arises naturally from the work itself? Where have they gone, our wise leaders?

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