After too many years at this job (I am in my mid-40s), I have grown to question higher education in ways that cannot be rectified by a new syllabus, or a sabbatical, or, heaven forbid, a conference roundtable. No, my troubles with this treasured profession are both broad and deep, and they begin with a fervent belief that most of today’s college students, especially those that come to college straight from high school, are unnecessarily coddled. Professors and administrators seek to “nurture” and “engage” and they are doing so at the expense of teaching. The result: a discernable and precipitous decline in the quality of college students. More of them come to campus with dreadful study habits. Too few of them read for pleasure. Too many drink and smoke excessively. They are terribly ill-prepared for four years of hard work, and most dangerously, they do not think that college should be arduous. Instead they perceive college as an overnight recreation center in which they exercise, eat, and in between playing extracurricular sports, they carry books around. If a professor is lucky, the books are being skimmed hours before class.
Philantrophist Eli Broad has an educational program called Spark to improve school children’s test scores:
Seventh-graders can earn up to $50 a test — for 10 assessment tests throughout the year. There’s a similar program for fourth-graders. The money goes into a bank account that only the student can access. The better you do, the more money you earn, up to $500 a year for seventh-graders. The idea is to make school tangible for disadvantaged kids — short-term rewards that are in their long-term best interest…
[Eight-grader Soledad Moya] said she wasn’t a “studying kind of” person before the awards. Now she and her friends like to look in the dictionary and memorize words and their definitions, and they ask their teachers for more practice tests. Even though she’s not eligible for the awards now that she’s in eighth grade, she’s still studying harder before tests, she said. “Once you get started with something, you keep doing it.”
The changes she saw in students like Moya caused Lisa Cullen — a literacy and social studies teacher at the school — to go from skeptic to supporter: “I saw how it takes away the uphill battle you have trying to get students to study for tests.” She saw a definite increase in students’ excitement, enthusiasm and effort.
Wow! That is exactly of why I studied to ace that Science in fourth grade, to buy myself a horde of comics.
Even though they may say that it’s basically bribing kids to study (isn’t that what scholarhsips are about?), you have to concede that the short-term gains are quite tangible and attractive enough to be taken upon on. In plain economics, it’s the power of incentives!
What experts underestimate here is the power of building a long-term habit in the school children participating with the program. Not only are study habits going to be built, but the confidence and self-esteem of the students will also be given a boost.