In the early 1990s, I attended a meeting where the issues of education were debated.

One of the attendees was Albert Shanker.

I don’t remember where or when this meeting occurred. I can’t document it.

But I remember what Al Shanker said that day about merit pay.

After another member of the group predicted the great improvements that would occur if teachers could compete for merit pay, Shanker said the following:

“Let me get this straight,” he said. “The kids will work harder and get higher test scores if their teachers compete for a bonus?” 

Suddenly, it all seemed so clear. It is the students who need to be incentivized, if you want their performance to improve.

But now we know that offering cash prizes to students doesn’t work either.

It was tried a few years ago in New York City, D.C., and Chicago.

Professor Incentive (aka Roland Fryer) both proposed the program and evaluated it. He concluded that it didn’t work.

What did seem to work was to pay kids to read more books. But that was all.

Paying kids to get higher test scores was ineffective, and the three cities–after handing out lots of cash–abandoned that effort.