Recognition Is a Better Motivator Than Money for Improving Academic Performance, Particularly for Young Girls

vanderbiltMany school districts have instituted merit-based pay awards as incentives for teachers to improve students’ test scores. And a few school districts have even begun to give monetary rewards for students who perform well in the classroom.

But a new study led by researchers at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education has found that monetary incentives may not be the best way to encourage better academic performance, particularly for girls. Researchers randomly selected 300 students in the fifth through eighth grade in a large urban school district. They split the students into three groups. One group was offered $100 if they consistently attended a free after-school tutoring program. A second group was promised a certificate that would be mailed to their home by the superintendent of the school district is they attended the after-school program regularly. A third group was invited to attend the after-school program but was offered no incentive.

The researchers were surprised to find that the promise of a certificate mailed to their home was a better motivator than money. Researchers believe that the students believed the certificate mailed to their home would produce benefits that outweighed the monetary reward. They note, however, that certificates or other recognition given at school in front of peers would probably not produce the same results because of the students’ perception that their peers would look at their extra academic effort unfavorably.

The results showed that the preference for the certificate incentive was particularly strong among adolescent girls. Matthew G. Springer, director of the National Center for Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt, said that “adolescent males and females tend to respond differently to incentive structures.”

The study, “Monetary and Non-Monetary Student Incentives for Tutoring Services: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” was published in the Journal on Research on Educational Effectiveness. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study


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