Financial Incentives for Students, Parents, and Teachers in Houston, Texas

While teacher incentive programs have been widely explored, policymakers are interested in evaluating incentive programs that target students and parents, in addition to teachers.

In collaboration with the Houston Independent School District, Richard Holden (University of New South Wales) and J-PAL affiliate Roland Fryer (Harvard) conducted a randomized evaluation to examine how providing math-focused financial incentives to fifth-grade students, their parents, and their teachers impacts students learning outcomes. Programming in randomly selected schools compensated students for their effort, encouraged parents to monitor their children’s education, and rewarded teachers for their students’ performance.

The results of the study indicate that financial incentives led students and their parents to redirect their efforts to learning mathematics. This led to both positive and adverse impacts on student performance:

“First, incentives for mastering mathematics objectives lead to an increase in effort on that task and a resulting increase in math scores. Second, these incentives also lead to a decrease in reading scores. Third, these effects are exacerbated by pre-treatment test scores. Individuals with high ability increased their math achievement with no negative substitution effect on reading achievement. Low ability students exposed to the identical treatment demonstrated no increase in math scores and a large decrease in reading scores. Fourth, these effects are persistent two years after the incentives are taken away.”

Read our full evaluation summary on our website.

Author: Carolyn Ruh

Carolyn Ruh is an Undergraduate Policy Intern at J-PAL North America. As a Policy Intern, Carolyn helps write summaries of research articles and updates the J-PAL North America blog. Carolyn is currently studying economics at Boston College with a minor in Faith, Peace and Justice. She has previously worked with ACCION East, a nonprofit in Cambridge that provides small business loans throughout the United States.

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