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Gifts for Grades, Schools Are Cool Again

By Saikat Basu     Mar 6, 2008 in World
In an effort to improve school and student performances, the American education system experiment with cash and other benefits for better grades. Schools across America embrace the novel approach as debate over its effects continues.
I wish I had it as good when I was growing up. Their is a new idea sweeping through schools in America. In a new education experiment schools have attached monetary rewards to grades scored. The concept belies the traditional system of education by promising cash incentives, gift certificates, McDonald's meals and other assorted goodies. If the students are having it good as never before, the teachers are having it much better. In a school at Lower East Side of Manhattan, a fourth grader could receive nearly $50 for passing some of the standardized tests in Math and reading. The teachers are earning substantially more at bonuses of nearly $3,000.
The incentive based approach is not new to corporate culture but is certainly novel for an education system. It's a carrot without the stick policy. Educationists are riding the belief that pays for performance could push students and teachers alike to raise their levels. A collective improvement in grades could turn around a poor faring school.
According to the news report, New York City has one of the largest public school systems in the country. 200 schools are experimenting with this system by giving a variety of benefits across the board. For any marked improvements, students, teachers and principals are all eligible for the rewards. A mind boggling, $500,000 has been showered on 5,237 students across 58 schools. And that’s for scoring in 10 standardized tests for the academic year.
"I'm not saying I know this is going to fix everything,said Roland G Fryer, the Harvard economist who designed the student incentive program. "But I am saying it's worth trying. What we need to try and do is start that spark." "
As this earning for learning approach stands to change the very ideal of knowledge only for knowledge's sake, the natural critique is that children should be motivated to learn and not 'bribed' to learn. Also, doubts are being raised whether money alone can motivate a student to study more and improve his grades. The lure of bonuses could instill unwanted competition amongst the mentors of the students.
To take the very same school at Lower East Side of Manhattan, P.S.188's performance was rated poor and failing by the State Education Department. Post experiment it received a rating of 'A'. At odds, less than 60 percent of the students passed the state math test last year, and fewer than 40 percent did so in reading. But motivation to do better was on a high amongst the students. Students agree on the idea and say that it excites them enough to want to do better in the tests.
As the debate rages, each school serves as a test tube for this unique experiment. The results may be immediately forthcoming on paper, but it surely would have some long term consequences which will only come with time.
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