Is Trading Cash for Grades a Good Idea?

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In today’s Washington Post comes a story about a school pilot program in which middle schoolers will be bribed for good grades and good behavior in class. Well, "bribed" might be harsh, but what else would you call it?

For years, school officials have used detention, remedial classes, summer school and suspensions to turn around poorly behaved, underachieving middle school students, with little results. Now they are introducing a program that will pay students up to $100 per month for displaying good behavior.

Beginning in October, 3,000 students at 14 middle schools will be eligible to earn up to 50 points per month and be paid $2 per point for attending class regularly and on time, turning in homework, displaying manners and earning high marks. A maximum of $2.7 million has been set aside for the program, and the money students earn will be deposited every two weeks into bank accounts the system plans to open for them.

Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Reese made the announcement of her plans as a way to boost the district’s rotten school performance. Your gut reaction for or against this this idea must be tempered by the sadness for any school that has gotten so bad where this extreme move becomes necessary. If you think about it, the program has a reasonable ring to it as an alternative to the overtly negative reinforcement I’m sure is in effect at these schools.

I am lucky to live where I do, as are I’m sure many of you, where most of the kids strive for their best no matter what, and where the culture in the schools fosters and nurtures that. But we all know too that some schools in some places in the country aren’t so fortunate. In such a circumstance, a program that entices students to actually participate and learn in spite of themselves might not be such a bad thing. Cash certainly can work in that regard I suppose. What I also learned is that similar programs are already in effect elsewhere in the country:

…A cash-incentive program that pays high school students as much as $500 for earning a 3 or more on an Advanced Placement test has been launched in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky and Virginia.

What do you think? Bribing kids for good school performance—yea or nay? Can it work in the long term?

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