The Kenneth and Anne Griffin Foundation
Chicago Heights Miracle Project

Rewarding Student Performance

Almost half of inner-city Americans fail to graduate from high school and most don’t make it to the 10th grade. In 2008, The Kenneth and Anne Griffin Foundation teamed up with University of Chicago economists John List and Steven Levitt (author of Freakonomics), and the Chicago Heights School District to test a unique incentive program, dubbed the Chicago Heights Miracle Project.

The aim of the project was to use cutting edge methods of investigation in behavioral economics to evaluate the impact of various incentives on student achievement.

Students were randomly assigned to one of four treatment groups, or to a control group. Each month in which a student met academic, behavioral, and attendance standards that student became eligible for an incentive.

  • Eligible students in the first group earned $50 each month. 
  • Parents of eligible students in the second group received $50 each month.
  • Eligible students in the third group were entered into a lottery for a chance to win $500.
  • Eligible students in the fourth group were also entered into a lottery, but their parents received the prize money.

The most significant impact was seen on students who were falling just short of their established goals. For these students, the incentive program had lasting effects: they not only began to meet standards but continued to outperform the control group into 10th grade. The researchers agreed that incentives can play an important role in getting children—especially borderline children—through school. Knowledge gained from the Chicago Heights Miracle Project led to the development of the Chicago Heights Early Childhood Center.

Watch the movie trailer of Freakonomics which mentions Chicago Heights.

Read an article about Dr. List’s experiments in the Chicago Maroon, the University of Chicago newspaper.

View the researchers’ presentation about the project.






Griffin Foundation