Florida High School Valedictorian Creates Innovative Tech Program to Boost Math Grades

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Experiment that pairs cutting edge technology with pay nets classroom success

“For many students, it was the first time in their life that they had received an 'A' in math,” said Bhandari. “One of our students would not have graduated if he failed in the fourth quarter, and he credits our program with helping him graduate.”

A 17-year-old high school senior has conducted an experiment utilizing research from a Harvard economist to discover that underperforming students can improve by at least one letter grade by using savvy technology with a little extra money in their pocket.

Rohit Bhandari, vice president of the senior class at JP Taravella High School in Coral Springs, paid 17 underperforming students $5 per day for 32 hour-long sessions over an eight-week period after school. The students, some of whom had learning disabilities, were asked to use various forms of powerful, technology based study aids to help improve in math. At the end of the term, 100 percent of the participants had improved by at least one letter grade, and in some cases, two or three letter grades.

“For many students, it was the first time in their life that they had received an “A” in math,” said Bhandari. “One of our students would not have graduated if he failed in the fourth quarter, and he credits our program with helping him to graduate.”

Now Bhandari’s creation, the Financial Incentives and Technological Solutions Program (FITS), is spreading to three neighboring schools and he has been invited to speak to Florida’s state legislature about its success.

“Rohit started his math program with 17 students, some of which were my own students and as each day passed I saw more motivation and better test sores as a result,” said Wendy Moskowitz, a Taravella High teacher.

FITS is based on the findings of a landmark study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer, Jr. widely reported in 2010 which found that paying students to study generated an improvement in test scores. Using private funds, Fryer paid 18,000 students from four different test cities a total of $6.3 million. The most significant results were seen in Dallas, where second graders were paid to read books. Fryer argued that paying students for grades produced a similar result to reducing class size, but at a fraction of the cost.

“There is no better incentive for kids to learn than to actually pay them for doing well. I honesty do not believe my son would have passed Algebra 1 without having this extra help,” said Taravella parent Shari Hain.

Bhandari says the pairing of intuitive technology with pay has the ability to boost test scores and grades even further than those in Fryer’s experiment. He raised $2,000 from local businesses, family and friends to launch the program at his school, where more than 300 students applied for the 17 spots. Participants improved their math scores by .79 standard deviations, four times the improvement found in the Harvard research and for just $200 per student. Rohit points out that cost is less than a tenth of the $2500 per student cost to reduce class size.

“My program is a way to get students to spend a required amount of time investing in their education, but I’m certain that once they do spend that time their motivation will come from the desire for continued success, not an external trigger such as money,” said Bhandari.

Already, his theory is working. Two weeks ago, Bhandari launched the second segment of his program, this time with no money involved. The results thus far are promising and Bhandari believes he will be able to generate even larger improvements.

Bhandari is in the process of establishing a non-profit to promote his pilot program and hoping to create more cost effective ways to boost student success.

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Rohit Bhandari
rohitbhandari1800@gmail.com
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