By Lydielyle Gibson and Jason Kelly

Teacher bonuses equal a net minus
Paying bonuses to teachers based on their students’ test scores is a bad policy, says economist Derek Neal, and one that doesn’t improve teacher performance. In a study published this January by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Neal argues that tying teacher pay to student achievement creates incentives that lead to more test prep than comprehensive instruction. Neal’s study examined the design of teacher-bonus programs, and he identified several flaws. In rare cases, teachers are driven to cheat for high student scores; more often they skip the hard, slow work of academic mastery and teach to the test. Some programs, Neal found, prompted teachers to leave schools where most students were poor or disadvantaged. Other schools set standards so high that bonuses were out of reach. Administrators should not mix student achievement and teacher performance, Neal concludes: “As long as education officials keep trying to accomplish both of these tasks with one set of assessments, they will continue to fail at both tasks.”

Too many—and too few—prostate exams
While many elderly men undergo prostate cancer screenings they may not need, younger men—who are more likely to benefit from early detection and treatment—often aren’t tested, according to a study by Medical Center urologist Scott Eggener published March 28 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In surveys conducted in 2000 and 2005, Eggener and colleagues at Harvard and Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital found that nearly half of men in their 70s received prostate cancer blood tests, but only 24 percent of men in their 50s underwent the same screenings. Because prostate cancer grows slowly, older men are likely to die first from other, more acute conditions. Unnecessary screenings, Eggener says, lead to overtreatment of an illness that will “most likely never bother them.”

Freedom is just another word for ...
Americans expect liberty from government interference in the marketplace, yet when it comes to criminal justice, they accept an expansive government role, says political scientist and Law School criminologist Bernard Harcourt. In The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of the Natural Order (Harvard University Press, 2011), he explores that contradiction, arguing that the public’s divergent—and often erroneous—perceptions about the economic and penal spheres have led to a ballooning prison population in the past 40 years and a misplaced faith in the existence of a truly free market. “This way of thinking makes it easier both to resist government intervention in the marketplace, as well as to embrace the criminalization and punishment of any ‘disorder.’” By 2008 the United States imprisoned 2.3 million people, compared to only 1.5 million in China, a country with four times the population.

Alcohol's rewards signal risk
Greater sensitivity to alcohol’s pleasant effects may predict drinking problems.

Alcohol’s rewards signal risk
Prevailing psychiatric wisdom holds that people who feel less intoxicated when they drink are more likely than others to abuse alcohol. But a new study by Chicago researchers suggests the “low-level response theory” may need refining: although heavy drinkers do experience fewer sedative effects from alcohol, they’re more sensitive to its stimulating, rewarding effects. In a study of nearly 200 subjects between 21 and 35 years old, psychiatrists Andrea King, Harriet de Wit, and Patrick McNamara, and biopsychologist Dingcai Cao, SM’02, PhD’03, found that heavy drinkers reported markedly more positive feelings than light drinkers after the same dose of alcohol. Following up two years later, the researchers, who published their findings in the April Archives of General Psychiatry, discovered that subjects who felt more stimulated by alcohol were also more likely to have increased binge drinking and other problematic alcohol habits.


Return to top