Should schools give students cash for good grades?
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GreatSchools asks: Should schools give students cash for good grades? Parents weigh in
By GreatSchools Staff
It used to be that earning an "A" was enough of a reward for doing well in school. Today, in an effort to boost achievement, some schools give students (especially those at risk for low achievement) gift cards or high-tech gadgets. And in a surprising trend, some are rewarding students with cash.
Public schools across the country are experimenting with incentive programs. In urban districts and rural outposts, some schools reward students who earn higher test scores and grades. Rewarding students' efforts and achievement with gold stars and token prizes is, of course, nothing new. Paying them in cash is another matter.
What's the short-term impact of these cash-incentive programs on student motivation, grades and test scores? Will this approach engage students in learning for the long haul?
Some cash-incentive programs target low-income and minority students - kids who are underachieving and who are at risk of school failure. Many of these students aren't on track to graduate from high school, much less go on to college. Three of the most-publicized programs are:
While these programs are offered at different school levels, all were designed by Dr. Roland Fryer, an economics professor at Harvard University's Education Innovation Laboratory and his team. Fryer makes it clear that these financial-incentive programs are experimental and are not intended to be the total solution to improving student achievement. After the initial experimental years, he and his team will analyze the program results. From there, they'll develop additional innovations that are scalable and evidence-based - and in keeping with the overarching goal of improving academic achievement.
It's important to note that these incentive programs are not funded by taxpayer dollars. Support comes from foundations and other private funders.
As with any controversial issue, it's helpful to hear both sides of the story.
What's the national perspective on motivating students? Cash-for-grades programs do not appear to be part of President Barack Obama's agenda for education. According to the official White House Web site, the president's education agenda includes "asking parents to take responsibility for their children's success; and recruiting, retaining and rewarding an army of new teachers to fill new successful schools that prepare our children for success in college and the workforce." The Obama administration will "address the dropout crisis by passing legislation to provide funding to school districts to invest in intervention strategies in middle school - strategies such as personal academic plans, teaching teams, parent involvement, mentoring, intensive reading and math instruction, and extended learning time." Finally, it will "support college outreach programs like GEAR UP, TRIO and Upward Bound to encourage more young people from low-income families to consider and prepare for college."
Is the cash-for-good grades approach a short-term remedy to a complex problem? Or will students learn longer-lasting lessons when educators, parents and communities provide programs and services that reinforce kids' desire to learn and teach them lifelong skills?
When asked how the programs are working so far, a spokesperson at the Education Innovation Laboratory would only say that results won't be made public until late 2009, after Fryer and his associates have had time to collect and analyze the data. Fryer claims that, if the approach fails, he'll be the first one to recommend pulling the plug - or adding other components to round out the programs.
Regardless of the outcome, the widespread publicity for these programs may ultimately serve to make the public more aware of the challenges faced by low-income, at-risk students - as well as their parents and teachers - when it comes to gaining momentum in education.
Weller points out, "Parents are the driving force in their children's educational success. They're hungry for information and guidance on how to support their kids and reinforce what they're learning at school." Yet many parents, she says, are unfamiliar with - and intimidated by - today's education terminology and systems. Investing in parent outreach and training benefits everyone involved.
Having worked with hundreds of low-income minority parents, Weller fears that if schools pay their kids for good grades, it gives parents an excuse to let the school take over and let money become the motivating factor. "Parents want to have power with their kids," Weller emphasizes. "I've seen amazing results when schools and parents work together to help kids succeed."