Paying for An Education

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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/

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10 Responses to “Paying for An Education”

  1. tanya Says:

    I hadn’t heard about this. Thanks for the info. The school I teach at pays students to attend summer school. They get $100 bucks on a gift card if they have perfect attendence for 4 weeks. Not quite the same, but I still think it is crazy for kids to be paid to go to school!

  2. harmonicagoldfish Says:

    holy moly creepy. That’s all I have to say.

    Ok, maybe not all 😉

    Paying kids to go to school. Paying kids to do something we are supposed to inspire them to crave?

    From Incentive Intelligence
    …motivation is an internal thing. You cannot create motivation – you can create an environment where people are motivated to focus on the objectives you want. This is not a minor point. Many times clients will ask… “how do I motivate my channel, or employees?” You can’t. But what I can do is put a program or initiative in place that offers something that will create a motivational desire within the audience.

    From Dr. Marvin Marshall
    Motivation research clearly shows that many commonly used techniques, such as rewarding students (to behave, or work quietly, or read, etc.) or imposing consequences (when they have done something inappropriate), are simply counterproductive when it comes to truly motivating them. You can use such techniques to make short-term changes in someone’s conduct, but you can never achieve long-lasting results in this way. True change must come from INSIDE an individual, and therefore a teacher must understand how to create an environment in the classroom in which children WANT to learn, WANT to behave appropriately, and WANT to achieve.

    I could go on…

  3. TeacherJay Says:

    Anyone remember Pavlov’s dogs? We could train students to respond in a certain way, but is that really what we want?

  4. TeacherJay Says:

    Greg Farr on the Shannon Learning Center, posted some news about a district in Texas rewarding teachers for their perfect attendance with a cruise or a Cadillac! It makes a humble teacher wonder what society’s view of the profession is?, or even if they would refer to it as a profession!

  5. Tracy Rosen Says:

    Doesn’t Mary Kay Cosmetics provide their top sellers with pink Cadillacs?

    Selling make-up…teaching children…

  6. acohen843 Says:

    Paying students to learn initially sounds good but causes one major problem. It doesn’t teach children that you do some things just because they are the right thing to do. Having a competition is fine but in the end, you learn because you want to learn.

    I once worked for a startup where at the weekly company meeting you could give kudos to an employee who went beyond their job responsibilities. For example, you would give kudos to a marketing person who stayed late every night to help quality control test a new software release.

    However, the kudo system became abused when for example, a marketing person received kudos for staying late to finish a marketing campaign. Certainly, it is appropriate for that person’s boss to thank them personally, but extra praise at a company meeting made the kudos system a joke. It became a parody.

    The reward for doing the right thing is knowing you did the right thing.

    Alan
    acohen843.wordpress.com

  7. Lindsey Says:

    This is the first time I have ever heard anything about special programs that are paying students to go to school and take required exams. I think the idea of this is ridiculous. Students are required to go to school and take certain standardized tests; they shouldn’t have to be paid or bribed to do so. Students also are not going to absorb the information they are learning in the long run. This program also encourages students to study and learn for the wrong reasons. They do not actually want to learn, they’re just doing it for the money.
    This program may be motivating kids to go to school and do well, but it’s not allowing them to actually want to do well and learn in school. Students shouldn’t be rewarded for doing what they’re supposed to do; they should go to school and do well because that’s what their expected to do. If students want to do well in school they should do it because they want to. This program is most likely to pay kids who don’t care about their education and after they get paid and do well on the tests, they probably are not going to move on to college or grad school to get a good degree. So what is the point of the program if the ending result leads to nowhere?

  8. TeacherJay Says:

    Alan — in addition to the Kudos system seeming like a joke, I would think that it would also be abused because people should be finishing their work on schedule without having to stay late, i.e. someone shouldn’t be praised for staying after hours to get a project finished that they couldn’t get finished on time without having to do so.

    Lindsey — I couldn’t help but being reminded of the classic quip, “That way of learning was good enough for me and it will be good enough for my kids” – gosh-darnit! I’m confused by this statement: “If students want to do well in school they should do it because they want to. This program is most likely to pay kids who don’t care about their education and after they get paid and do well on the tests, they probably are not going to move on to college or grad school to get a good degree. So what is the point of the program if the ending result leads to nowhere?” Are you trying to say that the program is not successful if students do not get a “good” degree?

    While I don’t feel that this program is without faults and I agree with you that intrinsic and intangible rewards reaped from education will far outweigh the tangible ones – not everybody will see that – especially a child. What’s wrong with a child staying interested in education because of the monetary reward? Can you offer a better solution to keep kids motivated and create a desire for those intrinsic rewards?

    You wrote: “Students shouldn’t be rewarded for doing what they’re supposed to do; they should go to school and do well because that’s what their expected to do. If students want to do well in school they should do it because they want to.” What do you intend to do with the student who doesn’t want to learn?

  9. Alan Says:

    I was reviewing the different comments. Certainly, it is tough to inspire someone to learn when they don’t want to. I’m sure there may be no direction from home.

    Since kindergarten, I remember my parents stressing the importance of education. They told me I was going to college. I could major in whatever I wanted to, but I was going to college.

    I was also lucky to have my dad for an example. He’s always reading and doing many self-study courses. While I wasn’t a straight A student, I always valued education. I do a lot of self studying on my own.

    Paying those that don’t want to learn is only putting a band-aid on the problem. One or two may learn the joys of an education but most are going to expect to be paid for those things they don’t want to do but have to do throughout their lives.

    Education and value systems begin at home. It is a complex problem. As they say, there are no simple answers to complex questions.

  10. Cash for Grades | TeacherJay's EduBlog Says:

    […] too, is a link to a previous blog post on the topic (on a different blog) that explains my views a bit more.  I encourage your comments and […]


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