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Show me the money!!

I asked Rabby Fully Eisenberger, one of the sources for my story yesterday about paying Jewish students to study Torah, for a photo to go along with the piece.

He sent us this one.

Not sure exactly what this is intended to illustrate – perhaps Plan B if the $500 dollar incentive isn’t enough?

On a related (and slightly more serious) note, the New York Times reports today on a city program to reward students with cash who score well on advanced placement exams. The program, which is privately financed and runs in 31 schools, pays out $1,000 to students who score a 5 on the exam (the highest mark possible), $750 for a 4, and $500 for a 3.

Not bad. But as the Times points out, the number who passed the exam actually declined in the year the program has been running, even though 345 more tests were taken in 2008.

I bring the story up because it was mentioned in my conversation with Randy Cohen, the resident ethicist at the Times. Cohen’s point was that financial incentives in education are fairly common. The question is not whether they’re ethical – which Cohen says they are – but whether they work.

Fair enough, but it’s also worth noting the New York program is trying to incentivize excellence, while the programs described in my story are just trying to get people to show up. The lesson of the New York program may be students will sit through a class for $500, but that doesn’t mean they actually absorb anything.

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