Sacramento Union, June 5, 2008
SACRAMENTO – Rewards and incentives, widely used in charter schools, play a key role in reading achievement, according to Paying for A’s, a new report from the Center for Education Research Outcomes at Stanford University.
“Incentive programs may not be a silver bullet, but they appear to be a brass one,” according to Margaret Raymond, author of the just-released study.
Nationwide, a growing number of traditional public school districts are using structured incentives to improve student achievement such as field trips, concert tickets, and mp3 players as rewards. Student incentive programs have also been widely used in charter schools across the country, given their operating flexibility under state charter laws.
Paying for A’s is one of the first analyses of the effectiveness of such programs at charter public schools. Preliminary results are encouraging.
The report surveyed nearly 200 charter schools in 17 states to determine the impact of incentive programs on academic achievement gains. It found that across grades average charter school students added four percentile points in reading each year they participated in a rewards program. When incentive programs contain specific features, the achievement gains are even higher.
Strong rewards program support from school personnel raises average annual student reading gains to five percentile points. Continuous or near-continuous reinforcement of student conduct improves annual student reading a full six percentile points.
These gains are equivalent to those realized by schools participating in charter school networks or Charter Management Organizations. Raymond found the gains are additive, meaning students in charter schools that belong to a network and have incentive programs could realize even greater boosts in annual reading achievement.
While Raymond discovered no math achievement gains from charter school incentive programs, her analysis suggests such programs hold great promise as a cost-effective reform strategy. The achievement gains they help achieve also come at an important time in the education reform debate in California and the country.
The Sacramento City Unified District is now the fifth-largest charter school authorizer statewide with 12 charter schools in operation. Five years ago, however, the Sacramento City Teachers Union and the California Teachers Association fought the opening of Sacramento Charter High School operated by the non-profit St. HOPE organization headed by Sacramento High graduate and former NBA great Kevin Johnson. Strong support from parents, local companies, the UC Davis Medical Center, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others, carried the day, but the battle is far from over in California.
Charter schools in California arose in response to the chronic failure of many district-run schools and the public outcry for more K-12 education options, just like variety of choices available in higher education.
Statewide, at every grade level and for every student sub-group, more charter schools than comparable district-run schools met state-mandated Academic Performance Index growth targets in 2007, 62 percent compared to 48 percent. Margaret Raymond’s Paying for A’s makes an important contribution to mounting evidence that charter schools can and do improve student achievement.