Money Talks

by Larry Teren

Money talks. Who’s listening?

A book written more than a decade ago presents, for example, two case studies on the:

  1. Financial consequence of being lazy or tardy.
  2. Financial incentive to cheat.

The first case involves a day care center where parents are habitually coming to pick their child(ren) up well past the 4pm closing time. A not-too-happy employee is obligated to stay at least once a week a half hour to an hour late without pay because of the inconsideration of these parents.

The owners of the day care center make a decision to charge a $3 fine per each child when a parent arrives late. The fine is tacked on to the monthly bill. Before the fine system is instituted, maybe a handful – four or five- parents a month are habitually late. A couple of months after the fines begin to be assessed, it turns out that more than twenty parents are now late and being assessed fines.

The increase in the number of late parents are the result of a couple of unintentional actions by the day care center management. Assessing a late fee becomes a validation for such action. It also places a value on being late for which the parent then can decide if it’s worth it. In other words- one can be late and this is how much it is going to cost.

There are parents who most likely wanted to be late but until the penalty comes into place are afraid to do so. They see that the day care people recognize it as a fact of life and place a financial worth to it. This validation gives these parents the impetus to change their personal time management, even at a cost. There are also parents who probably feel guilty about being late but now that they are being fined their guilt is relieved. They see it as an extra service fee worth it as a sacrifice to their budgeted time.

This is no different than public library users borrowing books. The vast majority return their books on time but there are a few who for whatever reason let the deadline slip. The library publishes the late fee and the borrower knows in advance how much to expense against their tardiness. Everyone goes home happy, hopefully.

It’s the same with paying off credit card purchases. Some people pay their bills in full- others know the consequences in advance of late payment and make those decisions recognizing the cost of the consequence.

The other case involves the Chicago Public School system which about a dozen years ago sensed that there is cheating going on. All of a sudden, evaluation tests show a marked improvement in class-wide scores.

The highest level administration is convinced there is cheating. Statistician analysts are brought in to review the grades on the multiple choice tests and the pattern they detect becomes obvious. The cheating is not being done by the students but rather the teachers. The instructors are erasing the marks made by their students and systematically marking a range of answers with the correct solutions. The intention is not to be too obvious and create a glut of A students but to reduce the number of D and F students percentage-wise. Why? Because teachers are given financial incentives for improving the average grades in their classrooms.

The result is that those teachers are identified and fired. Of course, the Teacher’s Union protests but facts are facts. No one wants cheaters to be teachers.

In the early part of the 2010s decade, the Chicago schools are still using the same testing system. By 2013 or so, they shift to a test system authored by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is used in most other states. There is a dramatic shift in several school’s evaluation of entire grade ranking compared to the same grade around the country. It has gone significantly down.

Some schools are put on warning of closure, others do indeed close. It is a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. The thinking is that a school’s sense of educational worth has become so polluted, it is better to shift those students to nearby schools. Fumigate the culture by vacating the school building into obsolescence.

Our first example shows that having enough money helps make it easier for some to perpetuate a personality fault- being late for an obligation. The second example exposes that financial incentive may lead to unethical action that unfairly causes the rest of us to spend more money.

Yes, money talks and we all wish we can control the conversation.

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