Paying to Get the Students to Play

The blame for lack of student achievement typically falls in a few different camps. Ineffective teachers, administrations hamstrung by union rules, society in the form of a poor learning environment, parents that don’t emphasize education and sometimes even the young people themselves are held accountable.

In the past few years, some school districts have tried bribery as a partial solution. That is payment in cash or prizes to students for good grades, high test scores or merely showing up for class. My opinion aligned with the majority in stating that this was a serious misuse of funds. I honestly don’t know whether there has been any substantive study of the results of those efforts.

Now, the Houston public school system is preparing to offer payments to struggling students in the lowest-performing schools if they show up for Saturday tutoring sessions. Another "throw money at the problem and let’s see what happens" scenario. Maybe not in this case.

In addition to the extra weekend help (the superintendent equates the payment to a job as many of these students must work to support their families), the school district is implementing other meaningful reforms that include:

  • Extending the school year and day
  • Giving students who are performing below grade level a "double dose" of math and English
  • Removing ineffective teachers and principals
  • Students and parents signing performance contracts (a strategy employed by some successful charter schools)

It might be categorized as a desperate measure to pay students $30 a tutoring session (with free breakfast and lunch). But it’s not taking place in isolation and if some of the other reforms are successful, maybe getting students in the door will lead to improved results. Hopefully.

The Houston Chronicle has more here.