Thursday, October 6, 2011

Incentives and Cheating

Whenever I hear the word 'incentive' I think of Freakonomics. Whenever I think of Freakonomics, I think of the chapter titled "Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers." The chapter basically lays out how the high incentives associated with excellent achievement on test scores and winning a sumo match have led to cheating.
The No Child Left Behind program awards funding to schools based on performance on standardized tests. The unintended consequences of this well intentioned policy were additional time spent practicing for the test, teaching to the test, focusing on those students below the mark at the expense of students ready to move on and be challenged, and, of course, cheating.
The chapter goes into how the cheating schools were caught but the point reiterates what Whitman was saying. People are clever. Incentives will motivate them to change their behavior, but you can't always predict how.
Sumo wrestling is steeped in tradition and honor. And according to Levitt and Dubner it's all totally rigged. Once Sumo wrestlers are 'in the club' so to speak, they can't be booted out due to loses. So up and coming wrestlers will pay them off to win fights to get 'in the club.' It's big business and very taboo. Once again, high reward, likely to find cheaters.
I suppose this requires us to define 'cheating.' Cheating is breaking the rules. But any behavior that defies expectations could also be considered 'cheating' in a sense. The gun buy back program results in people from outside the area bringing in their guns. They aren't breaking a rule exactly but it wasn't the expectation of the program. We might call these people 'cheaters.'
Finally I am reminded of the incentive offered by Sherri to have perfect attendance. Perfect attendance results in an automatic increase of a half step in your overall grade. But the class is big. Attendance is recorded by sheets left out in the open for students to sign. I wonder how often students simply sign their name and then leave. Or just show up at the end to sign. I recommend comparing clicker quiz results with the attendance sheet to verify attendance.
Nevertheless, the incentive has motivated me to have perfect attendance. On days where I have felt like crap and skipped my other two morning classes I made an effort to attend that class simply to maintain my perfect attendance. Similarly the clicker quiz at the beginning of class motivates me to be on time. I am less concerned with attendance and timeliness in all my other classes. But don't worry. I still have A's.

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