Finding the Student's 'Price Point'

Paul Peterson
April 19, 2010
Education Week

A couple of weeks ago, I learned about “price points” by speaking at a conference for those who design hotels and restaurants. As many readers may know, the price point is the approximate amount someone is willing to pay for such things as kitchen cabinets, faucets, sinks, and bathroom tile. All of these commodities come in a zillion different shapes, sizes, materials, and—of course—prices. If a designer does not know the customer’s price point, too much time can be spent promoting a gold-plated door knob when a brass one will do. On the other side, the designer can annoy a customer by promoting something plastic when only brass is acceptable.

Students have their own version of the price point—the material they are ready to learn. If teachers repeat familiar material, bored students will stare out the window or practice their spitball skills. Conversely, teachers who introduce excessively advanced material will leave their students confused and dissatisfied.

Each and every student has his or her own price point. The range can be narrowed by creating small, tracked classes, but unless the course is a tutorial, the problem of uneven price points can never be eliminated. In large, heterogeneous classes with students from varying linguistic backgrounds, some of whom are in need of special education, the teacher may begin to feel more helpless than a designer confronted by an opinionated couple with strikingly diverse views on what...