Don’t be confused, this post is not about the differences between private and public schooling… TeacherJay has already put forth his opinions on that over at Karl Frank Jr.’s blog. This post is however about pilot programs that are paying students for good grades and test scores, as well as the high test scores on economics that are showing up nationwide. In a school near you, students may soon be paid actual cash just for coming to school and doing what they are supposed to be doing… learning. Is this an innovative method of getting kids interested in going to school or just a ploy to turn them into capitalist drones?
TeacherJay first ran across this idea back in June when the New York Times article ran telling him that Schools Plan to Pay Cash for Marks. Designed by a Harvard economist, the plan that will go into effect in some New York City schools this Fall that will allow students to earn(?) as much as $500 per year for doing things like having perfect attendance, receiving good grades and doing well on any of the 10 (yes 10!) standardized tests given throughout the year. In fact, students get paid just for taking the test (the required test) regardless of how they do. While some argued that this may not be such a good idea as it encourages students to study for the “wrong” reasons, but Urban League Darwin Davis feels the amount of money is “paltry” for the area and even said about the program:
“I’m willing to say let’s see what works,” said Darwin Davis, the president of the Urban League. “We are in a capitalist society and people are motivated by money across race and across class, so why not?”
Thankfully, in August an article was published about a parent with some sense who feels that the program is a mistake and equates it to bribery. She explains that kids are “supposed to” go to school and get good grades and shouldn’t be rewarded just for doing “their job.”
Whether right or wrong the program shows the growing trend towards economic systems and a capitalist society in the classroom. TeacherJay remembers using incentive systems such as silver stars for good behavior, or top scores on the spelling test that translated into real prizes at the end of the week. At the time, it seemed like a good method of classroom management and encouraging his students to behave and to study. However, in retrospect, it did not seem to make a difference as the kids who tended to get the most stars probably would have behaved and learned their spelling words anyway, and the ones who didn’t lost interest. For TeacherJay the program seemed to focus on two issues:
- it perpetuated and possibly broadened the gap between the able students and those who could not compete as well, rather than encouraging and motivating students to do their best – even those who honestly were doing their best were not always rewarded because their best was not as good as someone else’s
- it pushed students towards a more capitalist view of the classroom, school and ultimately the world, i.e. the one with the money, or silver stars, is better and the one who without as much as wealth is somehow lacking or deficient
Neither one of these are values TeacherJay wished to instill in his students, still it seems that the attitudes are developing. In the first national economics test for high schoolers, it seems that students had a very strong grasp of concepts like supply & demand, and what drives market forces. Unfortunately, they had a very poor understanding of how the government actually affects economic policy, appropriates the budget and sets interest rates. While some are happy about the results, it seems that students having taken a previous course in economics did not affect their score and some are surprised by this. TeacherJay is not!
The basic concepts of supply & demand are understood by Kindergarten students when they must share pairs of scissors and jars of paste. When one child has all the gold stars, he would appear to be superior. The ramifications of such scenarios are plain as day for 5-year olds, so why shouldn’t they be so for teenagers? The surprising statistic here is that even though some students had taken courses in economics, they still could not explain how the U.S. Government affects it, and probably could never explain how school systems that are so strapped for cash that they can’t buy basic supplies, or why paying students for taking the state exam that will determine how much federal funding a school will get is a good idea.
UPDATE: Comments on this post are closed… if you wish to comment, please visit http://edublog.teacherjay.net/2009/03/08/cash-for-grades/