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We use direct financial incentives to motivate so many different activities in life. No one expects workers in a fast food restaurant to flip burgers for free. No one expects teachers to show up and teach without getting paid. But when it comes to kids in school, we think that the distant financial rewards they will earn years or decades later should be enough to motivate them, even though for most kids a month or two feels like an eternity.
To learn a little more about whether kids’ school effort responds to financial incentives, John List, Suzanne Neckermann, Sally Sadoff, and I carried out a series of field experiments we recently wrote up as a working paper (PDF here). Sally Sadoff (who you might remember from the Freakonomics movie as the woman who works tirelessly to help the students in Chicago Heights), talked about the research on Fox Business News.
Unlike most previous studies involving kids, schools, and payments, in this research we aren’t trying to get kids to study hard or learn more, we were going after something even more simple: just get the student to try hard on the test itself. So we don’t tell the kids about the financial reward ahead of time — we just surprise them right before they sit down to take the test by offering them up to $20 for improvements. Read More »
Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Playing the Nerd Card.”
It’s about the rise in basketball players (and other athletes) showing up at press conferences wearing the kind of eyeglasses usually associated with Steve Urkel and Buddy Holly. Among the practitioners: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Robert Griffin III.
What’s going on here? Has the rate of myopia exploded, even among premier athletes?
We talk to Susan Vitale, a research epidemiologist with the NIH’s National Eye Institute, who worked on a large study on myopia in the U.S. There has indeed been a huge spike in recent decades, and it’s especially pronounced among blacks. Read More »
Kai Ryssdal: Time now for a little Freakonomics Radio. It’s that moment every couple of weeks where we talk to Stephen Dubner, the co-author of the books and the blog of the same name — it is the hidden side of everything. Dubner, good to have you back. Stephen Dubner: Great to be here, Kai. I don’t […] Read More »
Warning: what follows is a horribly long, inside-baseball post that most people will likely have little interest in reading, and which I had little interest in writing. But it did need to be written. Apologies for the length and the indulgence; we will soon return to our regular programming.
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I. Going on the attack is generally more fun, profitable, and attention-getting than playing defense. Politicians know this; athletes know it; even academics know it. Or perhaps I should say that especially academics know it?
Given the nature of the Freakonomics work that Steve Levitt and I do, we get our fair share of critiques. Some are ideological or political; others are emotional.
We generally look over such critiques to see if they contain worthwhile feedback, or point to an error in need of correction. But for the most part, we tend to not reply to critiques. It seems only fair to let critics have their say (as writers, we’ve already had ours). Furthermore, spending one’s time responding to wayward attacks is the kind of chore you’d rather skip in order to get on with your work.
But occasionally an attack is so spectacularly ridiculous, so riddled with errors and mangled logic, that it’s worth addressing.
The following essay responds to two such attacks. The first one was relatively minor, a recent blog post written by a Yale professor. The second was more substantial, an essay by a pair of statisticians in American Scientist. Feel free to skip ahead to that one (at section III below), or buckle up for the whole bumpy ride. Read More »
“Audit studies” have been popular in labor economics research for 10 years. The researcher sends resumés of artificial job applicants in response to job openings. Typically there is a crucial difference in some characteristic of the person that indicates a particular racial/gender/ethnic or other group to which one person within a pair of resumés belongs while the other does not. The differential response of employers to the difference in the characteristic implied by the resumés is taken as a measure of discrimination in hiring.
Is this ethical? Read More »
I blogged a few years ago about Amadu Jacky Kaba under the headline “A Scholar to Keep Your Eye On”:
Amadu Jacky Kaba is a Liberian-born striver who first came to Seton Hall University as a basketball player and, several degrees later, has returned as an assistant professor of sociology and anthropology. Like our friend Roland Fryer, Kaba is a black scholar who studies a lot of racial issues with a perspective and a latitude that is unavailable to white scholars.
If indeed you had kept your eye on Kaba, you would have seen that he keeps writing lots (and lots) of interesting papers. Read More »
Harvard economist (and Freakonomics friend) Roland Fryer has a new paper out (full version here) that takes a look at the specific successful habits of charter schools. Along with co-author Will Dobbie, Fryer collected “unparalleled data” on 35 elementary and middle charter schools in New York City by conducting extensive interviews and videotaping classrooms.
Their results are fairly counter-intuitive. They showed that traditional solutions like class size, per-pupil expenditure, and the number of teachers with advanced degrees are not correlated with effectiveness, and in fact, “resource-based solutions” actually lowered school effectiveness.
Instead, they found five qualities that made up about 50 percent of a charter school’s effectiveness. These are:
1. Frequent teacher feedback
2. Data driven instruction
3. High-dosage tutoring
4. Increased instructional time
5. Relentless focus on academic achievement. Read More »