Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When Parents Get Paid for Homework - Bloomberg View

When Parents Get Paid for Homework - Bloomberg View:

When Parents Get Paid for Homework

Poor kids don't do nearly as well in school as the children of the affluent. There's a vicious cycle when you talk about this, where education reformers blame the teachers, teachers blame the parents and the economic conditions of the children, and everyone sort of gives each other the side eye while glumly agreeing that something really needs to be done.
Adoption studies seem to indicate that parenting does matter. Unfortunately, it's not clear what that actually tells policy makers. Reforming schools is harder than it sounds, but persuading principals and teachers to change what they do looks like a trivial exercise compared with getting millions of people to radically alter the hours they spend each day with their children in the privacy of their own homes. For one thing, we're paying the teachers and can threaten to cut off the checks if they don't change.
A team of superstar economists -- Roland Fryer, Steven Levitt and John List -- decided to see what effect it could have by paying the parents. They designed an expensive yearlong intervention, setting up a parent academy that distributed nearly $1 million to 257 families, including a control group that received minor sums for participating in periodic assessments. The academy was situated in a low-income neighborhood where the overwhelming majority of the schoolchildren qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The researchers developed a curriculum focused on helping students develop both cognitive and noncognitive skills and then taught it to the parents, who were rewarded for "attendance at early childhood sessions, completing homework assignments with their children, and for their child's demonstration of mastery on interim assessments."
Here are the results from the abstract:
This intervention had large and statistically significant positive impacts on both cognitive and non-cognitive test scores of Hispanics and Whites, but no impact on Blacks. These differential outcomes across races are not attributable to differences in observable characteristics (e.g. family size, mother's age, mother's education) or to the intensity of engagement with the program. Children with above median (pre-treatment) non-cognitive scores accrue the most benefits from treatment.
The paper is fascinating throughout. Before I go on, I will issue, as always, my standard disclaimer: This is one study of one program. Anyone who bases a global opinion about policy based on a single study richly deserves the ridicule and heartbreak they will get.
That said, I will now discuss what this study tells us if the results hold true. 
The effects are real, but not miraculous. The first thing to note is that across the whole group, the improvements in both cognitive skills and noncognitive skills are positive and nontrivial, but not When Parents Get Paid for Homework - Bloomberg View: