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Volume 12, Number 1
January/February 1996

Early Reports from Kentucky on Cash Rewards For 'Successful' Schools Reveal Many Problems


When the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that the state's system of funding public schools was unconstitutionally inadequate and inequitable, the legislature reacted by passing the comprehensive Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1990. It established a statewide system of rewards and sanctions to guarantee that schools "shall expect a high level of achievement from all students" and would be held accountable for students' performance.

To avoid the well-documented flaws of individual incentives like merit pay, the Kentucky rewards were designed as collective incentives. The first round of these rewards—$26.1 million in all—went to schools and districts in 1995.

Early reports from researchers raise troubling questions about the use of cash payments in this way to improve schools. They found no evidence that the rewards actually functioned as incentives; indeed, in some cases controversy over use of the money appears to have torn schools apart. The evidence also suggests that, in schools that weren't rewarded, the goals of the statewide reform effort may have been undermined, not reinforced.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

C. Abelmann. Consortium for Policy Research in Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 4th Floor, Gutman Library, Appian Way, Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-496-4815.

Appalachia Educational Laboratory, P.O. Box 1348, Charleston, WV 25325-1348; 800-624-9120.

Kentucky Institute for Education Research, 146 Consumer Lane, Frankfort, KY 40601; (502) 227-9014.

P. Winograd, E. Anderman, and T. Bliss. "The Relationship Between Kentucky's Reward System and Teachers' Attitudes Towards Teaching, Learning, and Reform." Policy Paper #1 (January 1996), Institute on Education Reform, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506; 606-257-6734.