Thursday, April 19, 2012

Perverse Incentives

If you didn't know, California's budget is tight--and getting tighter. There will be more cuts coming to education, and we're sweating the "May revise" to the governor's budget. One way my school district is reacting to this is to limit summer school to "credit recovery" only, which means that only students who receive F's in a course, and hence do not get course credit towards graduation, may attend summer school. Students who get a D officially pass a course and get credits.

At first blush the district's policy seems reasonable, but a little deeper thought reveals that it creates a very perverse incentive to fail. If students try but get a D, and want to move on in math, they'll need to retake the course next school year. On the other hand, if they fail the course, they can retake it in summer school and move ahead next year! Two math teachers have already reported having the conversation, "If I don't get a C, can you give me an F instead?"

Perverse incentives.


Jerry Doctor said...

In Omaha Public Schools we adopted this policy 20 years ago. Students didn't go to class during the regular year and failed. Gee... wonder what will happen in the summer when their friends are at the mall and what used to be a 40 minute class now lasts 90 minutes?

I understand not having enough money to offer a full selection of summer school classes. But why would you take the limited resourses you do have and spend them on the students that are the LEAST likely to succeed?

Darren said...

Oh, but they're not least likely to succeed--you see, summer school teachers are *miracle workers*! Kids who couldn't learn something in 180 hrs spread over 10 months can magically learn the material in 4 weeks in summer school. If only I were such a good teacher, no one would ever need to go to summer school!

Ellen K said...

Our summer school schedule has been this way for a couple of years. Class selections are limited to core courses, which means that if they need electives to graduate, they are out of luck. More problematic is that we have more demands for art classes than ever, enough for another teacher, but one will most likely not be hired. This means, since we are not allowed to cut intro classes, either my advanced painting or AP studio will be cut. How can you build a program when there is demand for the course? And how can this be justified when our district is completely rebuilding the central high school campus for no reason other than convenience?

maxutils said...

The D or C student, except in rare cases, is the only one who could possibly benefit from summer school -- if the grading is done as it should be, a D is 'almost getting it but not quite.' That can be fixed in a shortened repeat -- total lack of knowledge of the subject can't. I taught a class of 30 geometry students one summer, most of whom had failed, and I think 5 passed . . . not my normal percentages.