Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Paying kids for grades?

I read an interesting article in the Washington Post this week about a new program that actually gives middle school students a paycheck for achieving good grades and meeting attendance standards:

The District's experimental program to pay 3,300 middle school students for good grades and behavior is filled with valuable life lessons about hard work, thrift and showing up on time, its supporters say.

And on yesterday's first payday under the "Capital Gains" plan, kids at the 15 eligible schools cashed in. They earned a total of $137,813 from the initiative, a joint venture of the District and Harvard University. Students can earn a maximum of $100 every two weeks. The average award yesterday was $43.

The article doesn't state what, exactly, the standards are that these kids are aiming toward, but it does say that some of the programs goals have been met -- and the administration anticipates that as the kids realize what exactly they'll be receiving every two weeks, their grades and attendance will continually improve.

Hmm. Not sure what to think about this. On one hand, sure, give the kids some incentive to achieve. Many of them probably come from lower income households in which school is not necessarily a priority. Maybe giving them a paycheck will keep them motivated to focus on their education, and it may help their families make ends meet without forcing young kids to get jobs (or worse, earn money illegally).

But is this really the best way to spend grant money? What about providing $200/month/child to fix up the school facilities or offer more extra-curricular programs? Or paying the teachers better so they're motivated to do their jobs? What about putting that money into tutoring programs or before- and after-school programs that keep kids safe and healthy? What are these kids going to do with the money they earn? The article cites at least one who's running to the mall. How about teaching students how to invest it so they can capitalize on their good grades and go to college or buy a first car or home?

I don't think I'm on board.

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