Paying kids to perform in school
I ran into another interesting post by Rory at Parentalcation the other day. This one dealt with a Diane Ravitch commentary on New York City's plan to pay students to perform better in school. Diane Ravitch was totally against the idea, but Rory was for giving it a shot. Now, two weeks ago, I declared Diane Ravitch to be my all-time favorite education expert after she wrote a piece defending teachers. She has authored several books and is recognized everywhere as an authority on education policy. Rory is a parent who frequently criticizes teachers and public schools. So who do you think I agree with? That's right--Rory.
Here is a blockquote from the Ravitch article that Rory used in his post. He disagreed with it, and so do I, but I've got a slightly different slant on it.
From the point of view of schooling, this plan is wrong because it tells kids that they should study only if they get extrinsic rewards. Yet what educators are supposed to do is teach kids to have a love of learning, to encourage them to improve their lives by enlarging their knowledge of the world. If they are going to study only if someone pays them, what happens when the payment ends? What will motivate the kids who are not getting cash payments when their classmates are being paid off for higher scores? The plan destroys any hope of teaching the value of intrinsic motivation, or the rewards of deferred gratification, or the importance of self-discipline for a distant but valued goal.
The idea of kids working hard in school because they have a love of learning is a wonderful thing, but that may never happen for a lot of kids if we wait for that to happen by itself. I have seen kids come to enjoy a class because they were initially motivated to get a good grade. They worked to learn the material because they wanted a good grade. Then as they began to learn the material and experience success, they actually got interested in the subject and enjoyed the class. The grade was the hook. If I'd have waited for them to love learning for its own sake, I'd still be waiting. For the kids we're talking about in New York City, grades aren't a sufficient hook, but maybe money will be.
Ms. Ravitch did say something that I definitely sympathize with: "If parents want to give their kids money to get an "A" or to pass a course, that's their private affair, but for the government to pay people to take personal responsibility for themselves is repulsive."
I completely agree with her philosophy here. And if there weren't a major problem, I would agree with her that paying students to perform better shouldn't be done. But it seems to me that we are talking about kids for whom nothing has worked. I guess I view this a little bit like FDR viewed the Depression when he became president. He believed we had to try something--anything--to get the country going, even if some parts of programs he pushed actually clashed with other things he was pushing. I think we need to try something--anything--to get these kids going. One thing that has definitely hurt education is our tendency to do or not do things based completely on philosophy, theory, or what sounds good rather than finding out what actually works. So I'm with Rory--I think it's worth giving this idea a shot.
There is one part of this plan that I completely disagree with, and it demonstrates how little the politicians understand about what actually happens in classrooms. Under the plan, kids would get paid for attending classes and taking tests, as well as passing tests. If they are going to be paid, pay them only for positive performance. Please don't pay them just for showing up. Politicians and judges have to learn that just "being in school" does absolutely nothing for anyone and it can do damage. If they are paying kids for just being there, there's a good chance they'll be paying kids for disrupting their classes and making it even harder for anyone else in those classes to learn.
Ravitch says something else in her opinion piece that I found very interesting:
From the point of view of society, the plan is wrong because it tears at the social fabric of reciprocity and civic responsibility that makes a democratic society function. Should we pay people to drive safely? Should we pay them to stop at red lights?
No, we shouldn't pay them, and we don't have to. We don't have to pay people for driving safely and stopping at red lights, because they will be punished if they don't. If they continue to drive recklessly, or if they continue to run red lights, we will take away their driving privileges. Now, if we would apply that principle to kids who won't try and won't behave in school, we wouldn't have to pay them either.