Education: Adding It Up (2 + 2 = $)

They’ve tried it in Dallas, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. among other places. The results have been mixed at best. Overall, in this writer’s view, there’s something that just doesn’t feel right.

It, in this case, is paying students for academic performance. And it, in this case, adds the twist of rewarding parents with cold, hard cash if their kids pass certain math tests and if the parents go "above and beyond" by attending conferences with teachers.

Shouldn’t parents already have an interest in the education progress of their offspring? Shouldn’t students take the responsibility, with the help of their parents, to try and perform to the best of their abilities? I know the answer and also realize what should happen doesn’t happen all the time. But high expectations, in my opinion, instead of high rewards, would yield more productive results.

Your thoughts? Here’s an excerpt from the Houston Chronicle:

The Houston school board signed off Thursday on the $1.5 million program, which is funded by the Dallas-based Liemandt Foundation. The incentives will go to students and parents at 25 elementary schools that rank among the lowest in math achievement.

The pilot program — thought to be the first that offers joint incentives for parents and students — will allow fifth-graders to earn up to $440 for passing short math tests that show they have mastered key concepts, according to the draft proposal. Parents will get slightly less money for their children doing the work, and they can earn an extra $180 for attending nine conferences with teachers to review the youngsters’ progress.

Combined, the students and their parents can pocket $1,020.

Parents can opt out of the pay program, which also is expected to include money for teachers – up to $40 per student – for holding the parent conferences. The Houston Independent School District already has the nation’s largest program that rewards teachers and school staff for boosting students’ scores on standardized tests.

Nationwide, public support is low for school districts paying students for specific behaviors, such as reading books, attending class or getting good grades, according to the 2010 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll. About one in four Americans favor the idea. A similar number said they had paid their own children for academic accomplishments.

The Houston program appears to be based on the Dallas work. Second-graders in Dallas were paid $2 for each book they read once they passed a simple quiz to confirm they had done the reading. A study found that the students who were promised money improved in reading comprehension and language more than those who weren’t offered the reward.

The idea of paying parents intrigues Dan Ariely, a Duke University professor who studies human behavior, but he said he expects little long-term benefit from the cash rewards for students.

"The parents actually have some control over the kids," he said. "They can tell the kids to study."

For the students, he said, the monetary incentive will do nothing to instill in them a love of learning. "What is questionable is whether you could create short-term learning or not," he added.