Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More Recent News: Cost of Prison, Expensive Placebos, and Payments for Good Grades

More recent news items of interest, all from the New York Times:

1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says

Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Now, with fewer resources available, the report said, “prison costs are blowing a hole in state budgets.” On average, states spend almost 7 percent on their budgets on corrections, trailing only healthcare, education and transportation.

In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budgeting Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 increase once adjusted for inflation. With money from bonds and the federal government included, total state spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.

It cost an average of $23,876 dollars to imprison someone in 2005, the most recent year for which data were available. But state spending varies widely, from $45,000 a year in Rhode Island to $13,000 in Louisiana.

The cost of medical care is growing by 10 percent annually, the report said, and will accelerate as the prison population ages.

More Expensive Placebos Bring More Relief

The investigators had 82 men and women rate the pain caused by electric shocks applied to their wrist, before and after taking a pill. Half the participants had read that the pill, described as a newly approved prescription pain reliever, was regularly priced at $2.50 per dose. The other half read that it had been discounted to 10 cents. In fact, both were dummy pills.

The pills had a strong placebo effect in both groups. But 85 percent of those using the expensive pills reported significant pain relief, compared with 61 percent on the cheaper pills. The investigators corrected for each person’s individual level of pain tolerance.

“It’s a great finding,” said Guy H. Montgomery, an associate professor of cancer prevention at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine who was not involved in the research. “Their manipulation of price affected expectancies of drug benefit, and pain is the ultimate mind-body phenomenon.”

Next Question: Can Students Be Paid to Excel?

The fourth graders squirmed in their seats, waiting for their prizes. In a few minutes, they would learn how much money they had earned for their scores on recent reading and math exams. Some would receive nearly $50 for acing the standardized tests, a small fortune for many at this school, P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

At Junior High School 123 in the Bronx, Jerome Johnson, a seventh-grade math student, also received cash awards.

When the rewards were handed out, Jazmin Roman was eager to celebrate her $39.72. She whispered to her friend Abigail Ortega, “How much did you get?” Abigail mouthed a barely audible answer: $36.87. Edgar Berlanga pumped his fist in the air to celebrate his $34.50.

The children were unaware that their teacher, Ruth Lopez, also stood to gain financially from their achievement. If students show marked improvement on state tests during the school year, each teacher at Public School 188 could receive a bonus of as much as $3,000.

School districts nationwide have seized on the idea that a key to improving schools is to pay for performance, whether through bonuses for teachers and principals, or rewards like cash prizes for students. New York City, with the largest public school system in the country, is in the forefront of this movement, with more than 200 schools experimenting with one incentive or another. In more than a dozen schools, students, teachers and principals are all eligible for extra money, based on students’ performance on standardized tests.


Anonymous said...

My parents used to give us money for good grades. But more like $5 or something.

Plus, we'd get free tacos for A's at Taco Johns.

But wow, this is a bit extreme

Kizz said...

So now we'll have a city full of kids who are great test takers but don't actually know diddly. I hate the concept of paying for good test scores. I understand that it works and it must make those stupid tests a lot more bearable but it's such a bad idea in terms of actually educating kids. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

They were talking about the idea of paying students in MD. I don't like the idea, but if they are going to do it anyway, they need to put the money somewhere where the kids can't access it until they're 18. Then it will collect interest and be useful when they need it.


Anonymous said...

School is a kid's job. You work hard at your job, and you get a bonus or a raise. You don't object to that, do you? The crisis in our schools is so great, any solution is worth trying. Better educated kids means less crime, so the experiment, if it works, will pay for itself in the long run. Just being the Devil's Advocate here, but I am interested in the experiment.

Alli said...

Did anyone notice the article about 1 in every 100 Americans are in jail? Anyone think that if they had incentives to learn that some of them may not be in jail? Per person people in jail have more money spent on them than kids in school. Everyone has heard of preventative medicine. This is much of the same.

I taught school and am currently working with an apprenticeship program. I personally like the idea of paying kids to do well. I also believe that they should have classes on how to manage their money and have options for technical training. If the kid is doing well and are interested in what they are doing they are less likely to drop out, more likely to gain some skills, and become a productive member of society.

So give these kids incentives- educational and financial- and I think we will see a change in the prison system as well. Just imagine the returns on those investments!

Kizz said...

Incentives to do well in school are an entirely different matter, I think, than incentives to do well ON STANDARDIZED TESTS. If the entire system shifts to teach then to do well on these tests and not to learn in general that's going to be a huge problem. Perhaps I'm wrong about this program in NYC, I don't know a lot about it but my understanding is that the test scores gain you the bonus not your class work or progress in general.

Jon said...


It has to be standardized tests or teachers could say "Hey guess what, you all get A's! [and I get my $3000 bonus mwuhahaha]".

It's pretty much impossible to do well on a standardized test and "not know diddly" -- especially when the tests are at the low level we're talking about here. You cannot pass a standardized test on basic math (addition, subtraction, etc) without KNOWING basic math.

When you get to higher level subjects like "American History" and the standardized test consists of a few isolated facts, multiple choice style, and teachers teach the test without even bothering to connect those facts to other material, that's when they lose value.

Ashley said...

Testing creates learning boundaries. Do we want kids to think of learning as a limited achievement? Shouldn't education be about teaching kids how to think not what to think? Add money to that and I don't think we're doing a long-term service to kids.

As for teachers, I don't like them having a financial motivation to get kids doing better, either.

The prison numbers were staggering to me. It seems that there is a systemic problem in society and that one problem is related to another, whether directly or indirectly.

Very interesting post. Very thought provokign...

Anonymous said...

re: The prison article.

Our approach to justice, with it's focus on locking people up and throwing away the key is painfully un-pragmatic, and not just from a financial standpoint. Most men (and women, though more men are incarcerated) in jail are of what we'd consider "prime" working age. Putting them in jail means that they're unable to work, secluded from society, and losing valuable years of their lives. Then when they finally get out, not only have they lost all of those years where they could have been a contributing member of society, they're also so heavily stigmatized that it's difficult for them to re-integrate. $23,000/year, and at the end of their sentence, they have very little to show for it.

I'm not saying that individuals shouldn't be punished for their crimes, but it seems that someone should be able to devise a system that is more pragmatic, both from a financial standpoint (do states really need to be spending billions per year?), and in relation to how offenders are treated to focus on rehabilitation, not restitution.

VixenOnABudget said...

I totally agree with offering incentives to students to study/work harder. Whether it be for real grades or standarized tests, either way the student is learning more. My boyfriend works in a continuation school that is predominantly composed of gang members and teenage mothers. He can hardly get the kids to show up to class, nevertheless for them to listen to anything coming out of his mouth.

I think almost any means should be used to encourage students to learn.

Kim Hamilton said...

I still haven't decided where I stand on this, there's both good and bad to it.

In Michigan, there used scholarship money available for a passing score on a standardized test...but what happened was (1) Most teachers began teaching test-taking strategy instead of curriculum material and (2) The payout was a one-time deal, a number of students I knew would take a class at the local community college, get all the extra money back in cash, and then drop out of the class.

On the other hand, I was paid cash for individual grades when I was in high-school with bonuses for all-A's, and I graduated from one of the most expensive public universities in the country -- debt-free thanks to academic scholarships.