I [Fryer] find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor do I find any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior.
What struck me were not the findings (which, as Fryer notes in his article, are plausible enough) but the use of the word “I” rather than “we.” A field experiment is a big deal, and I was surprised to read that Fryer did it all by himself!
Here’s the note of acknowledgments (on the first page of the article):
This project would not have been possible without the leadership and support of Joel Klein. I am also grateful to Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, Joanna Cannon, and Dominique West for their cooperation in collecting the data necessary for this project, and to my colleagues Edward Glaeser, Richard Holden, and Lawrence Katz for helpful comments and discussions. Vilsa E. Curto, Meghan L. Howard, Won Hee Park, Jörg Spenkuch, David Toniatti, Rucha Vankudre, and Martha Woerner provided excellent research assistance.
Joel Klein was the schools chancellor so I assume he wasn’t deeply involved in the study; his role was presumably to give it his OK. I’m surprised that none of the other people ended up as coauthors on the paper. But I guess it makes sense: My colleagues and I will write a paper based on survey data without involving the data collectors as coauthors, so why not do this with experimental data too? I guess I just find field experiments so intimidating that I can’t imagine writing an applied paper on the topic without a lot of serious collaboration. (And, yes, I feel bad that it was only my name on the cover of Red State, Blue State, given that the book had five authors.) Perhaps the implicit rules about coauthorship are different in economics than in political science.
P.S. I was confused by one other thing in Fryer’s article. On page 1, it says:
Despite these reforms to increase achievement, Figure 1 demonstrates that test scores have been largely constant over the past thirty years.
Here’s Figure 1:
Once you get around the confusingly-labeled lines and the mass of white space on the top and bottom of each graph, you see that math scores have improved a lot! Since 1978, fourth-grade math scores have gone up so much that they’re halfway to where eighth grade scores were in 1978. Eighth grade scores also have increased substantially, and twelfth-grade scores have gone up too (although not by as much). Nothing much has happened with reading scores, though. Perhaps Fryer just forgot to add the word “reading” in the sentence above. Or maybe something else is going on in Figure 1 that I missed. I only wish that he’d presented the rest of his results graphically. Even a sloppy graph is a lot easier for me to follow than a table full of numbers presented to three decimal places. I know Fryer can do better; his previous papers had excellent graphs (see here and here).