Wednesday, January 23, 2008

School Districts All Across The United States Resorting To Outright Bribery To Get Students To Improve Their Grades


Earlier today, I found a story about the Baltimore school district's controversial program to start paying students for good grades. I noted it, but chose not to act upon it, thinking it might be a fluke. Pictured above left, Baltimore students Devon Thompson and Renieka Arnold, who will benefit from the program.

Then when I visited Phxnews.com, I saw another story about a Georgia school district using a similar scheme. And a further Google search indicates other instances in other places, as well.

Some districts are even using public money to pay students for good grades.

Houston, we have a problem!

The first story originates in Baltimore, and is discussed in the Baltimore Sun, HERE and HERE. The Baltimore school system will pay high school students who improve their scores on the state graduation exams up to $110 each. The system will spend $935,622 on the student incentives, part of a $6.3 million plan to help students struggling to pass Maryland's High School Assessments that administrators presented to the school board last night. Public money will be used.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick approved the plan last week. But in a letter to city schools chief Andres Alonso, she expressed concern about the "lack of ... research" supporting student incentives and required the system to closely track student results.

Baltimore Sun reporter Sara Neufeld, who's been reporting on the situation, blogs this separately, where she expresses skepticism about the benefits of the program. Several respondents share her skepticism, including one person who presciently inquired if students might be tempted to deliberately fail in order to qualify for the program and get the money.

The second story, which was posted on Phxnews.com, originates from Fairburn, Georgia. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WGCL Channel 46 in Atlanta report that forty students from Creekside High and Bear Creek Middle schools in Fairburn will be the first to try the "Learn & Earn" program, where students will get paid to attend after-school tutoring programs.

Students will make approximately $8 an hour, and be eligible for bonuses if their grades improve, said Kirk Wilks, district spokesman. The initial students are in the eighth and 11th grades. [Ed. Note: This could be a higher hourly wage than what some workers might be getting at the nearest Wal-Mart.]

With the support of Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts, the pilot program will last 15 weeks and pay students for participation and performance. The object of the program is to determine if paying students to study will improve classroom attendance, grades and test scores, according to a news release from the district.

The initiative is funded by Charles Loudermilk, chairman and chief executive officer of Aaron Rents, through the Learning Makes A Difference Foundation. The foundation is a local non-profit designed to improve education through creative programs. This implies that private money is being used, depending upon whether or not this foundation gets any government (taxpayer) grants.

And just before the start of this school year, the New York Daily News reported on a program instituted there, called Opportunity NYC, a cash rewards program which offers financial incentive for children and their parents. In this trial program, fourth- and seventh-graders who do well on various tests, including standardized tests, will be paid for high grades. Parents will also receive up to $25-$50 per month for 95% school attendance.


Critics point out that this incentive is geared toward fourth- and seventh-graders because these students' test scores determine how much federal education money the city receives. However, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein (pictured above left) defended the approach. The Education Department is "trying to get them into the learning and then to teach people to love learning. But if you're not motivated to learn, it's very hard to love learning," he said.

The money used for Opportunity NYC is private money raised independently. It is not part of the $258 million the department has received from New York State as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that determined that Albany was holding out on city school funding.

And this idea is spreading, and is not as new as it first appears. Back in November 2006, the Minnesota Private College Council urged the state of Minnesota to spend $50 million in public money to pay high school students who take and pass college prep classes. However, since the Council's proposed criteria is skewed in favor of minority and immigrant students, it appears to be little more than yet another minority giveaway program using bribery to keep them "happy".

And Margo Unqricht, identified as a seventh-grade English teacher in Lehi, Utah, expressed support for the idea in an article written for NEA Today in August 2004. Of course, we all know that the NEA is to education what Bill Clinton is to fidelity.

Opposition is widespread and well-informed. Kiplinger.com objects to the idea because of the slippery-slope theory. They're afraid kids will keep ratcheting up the ante. Likewise, the Christian Science Monitor expressed opposition in their own article published in September 2007. Other blogs reacting include the Right From The Right blog, the Still Spinnin' blog, and Slobokan.com, all critical of the scheme.

Commentary: This is a bad idea. If you give students cash and trinkets for good grades now, what will they ask for next year? They'll invariably up the ante. Of course, if parents choose to reward their kids privately, that's ultimately immaterial to me.

But particularly objectionable is the use of public money for this purpose. My property taxes already help pay for local schools, but I can live with it because I perceive that education requires a community investment. But public funding of this scheme requires me to subsidize bribery with my tax dollars. Unacceptable!

There's no place for such a scheme; neither in Utah nor anywhere else.

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