Monday, March 12, 2007

Blog 200: Pay for Performance

By Richard Vedder

Yesterday, it was revealed that one of America's largest corporations is going to be making a very large ($100 million +) commitment to supporting the Advanced Placement Test. Part of the money will go to reward good performance on the tests, with checks cut to those kids who, for example, get a grade of "5" on math tests.

Some people have been critical of this. They think it is perverse to pay people to do well, and note, correctly in some cases, that good performance would have come without the payment. In economist’s parlance, economic rent will be distributed to some good students.

So what? Our society is one of rewarding excellence, and giving rewards for superior academic performance strikes me in general as a good thing. Good students are rewarded by admission to Harvard, poor ones are turned down -- and that is the way it should be (although, perhaps we go too far in denying access). Moreover, more aggressive use of Advanced Placement makes college far more affordable. Training more teachers to teach Advanced Placement (and bribing them to do so) is a great idea, even though the teachers unions are nervous if -- God forbid --some teachers making a few more bucks than others. The crazy way we pay K-12 teachers, on which I have previously written in a pre-CCAP life, is a major factor in explaining the poor quality science and math instruction in U.S. high schools, turning kids off to these subjects. Exxon Mobil deserves credit for its move, which, by giving funds more to individuals than institutions, is a move towards more rational use of educational funds. High schools can offer learning for far less per credit hour than our bloated universities, and where the capability exists on the part of teacher and student, why shouldn't they?

********************** tells us this is blog number 200. CCAP has come a long way from our primitive beginnings last summer, and we are poised for new breakthroughs, not only in blogs but in other ways. We hope to do more state-specific analysis, beginning with North Carolina (thanks to the Pope Foundation) but hopefully other states as well (we are doing some work on Michigan as we speak). We hope to focus more on entrepreneurship in higher education (I have been reading with interest Charles Koch's new book on that subject, and thinking about how Charles's ideas can mesh with the higher education milieu). We hope also to expand our web site capabilities, which are now severely constrained by a lack of in-house web expertise. Finally, working with the American Enterprise Institute, we plan to do conferences -starting tomorrow-- on higher education topics. Bryan and I have great hopes for the future. Stay tuned.

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