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Cash for Good Grades? Some Schools Give It a Try

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By GreatSchools Staff

New President, New Agenda for Education

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."

Quick Fix or Lasting Lesson?

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.

The Power of Parent Involvement

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."

Comments from readers

"Extrinsic rewards in an effort to modify behavior work; however, can schools generalize these rewards to more intrinsic ones. In other words, can we jump start a kid to do better by paying him. Once, he does better, he will probably be happy that he is getting complements from family and teachers. He will understand more, participate more, and may start to have enough knowledge to wonder why? He'll ask questions because his curiosity and state of arousal are increased. Now, he is apt to do better because he has learned to enjoy learning: he gets an instrinsic reward for learning (gets better grades, improves behavior--wants to attend to the teacher. If operant conditioning such as these type of reward programs can do that, they will have been worth the small expense at the outset."
"I think giving things for getting good grades is a bad idea. What are you going to do next give them money for fixing their bed or cleaning their rooms or doing dishes. I think only things above and beyond should be paid for. If i say 'Gosh i would like to wash my car but I'm so tired.' And the child say 'Hey i can do that' I'll pipe in if you do a good job I'll pay you for it. If I want the fence painted and my 15yr old say 'I can do that' I'll pay him. But normal keeping up the house i don't pay for, doing school work. that is expected if he doesn't make an effort to get reasonable grades he's punished."