Education reform is a good thing. Trying new things when the same old efforts fail generally makes a lot of sense. Innovation to improve student performance and graduation rates is something to applaud — for the most part.
But what about paying students for their accomplishments? Not pizza parties and "no homework for a day" passes, but cell phones and cold, hard cash. Below are two excerpts from a Governing magazine article. It’s an interesting read. Personally, I fall much closer to the second camp and give the programs under way in some big cities "A’s" for intentions and much lower scores for fairness and long-term impact.
“It’s been outstanding for us,” says Laverne Nimmons, the principal of P.S. 335. “The students took to it immediately.” Nimmons sees cash incentives not only as an academic motivator for students but also a ticket out of poverty. “When you get into wealthier, upper-middle class families, you get parents who reward their children for good grades. They pay for after-school programs or private tutors to help improve their grades.” Those are luxuries that Nimmons’ students can’t afford. “These are children in an impoverished community. There are no rewards. With this program, we’re just trying to create a level playing field.”
Opponents of incentives programs, including experts in education and child psychology, say bonus money won’t change students’ study habits in any lasting way. In fact, they argue, the incentives may backfire and hurt student performance in the long run. Others are simply uncomfortable with the social implications of paying some students to learn but not others. “It becomes a condescending situation,” says Heather MacDonald, an author who has written about education for the Manhattan Institute. “I just find it troubling that half of society is paying the other half to do something the first half already knows it should be doing. Who is in the paying class and who is in the paid class? How do you explain to one group of students that they should value education for its own sake while some of their classmates are getting money for the exact same thing?”