Schools use cash as an incentive to boost attendance and scores
Baltimore schools teach students about the stock market and let them keep money from their portfolios. Are cash rewards bribery or a creative way to inspire students?
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His class is part of the "Stocks in the Future" program, a private initiative run in partnership with the school district. It is taught to some 400 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The students earn up to $80 a year, which they can invest in blue chip stocks and cash out when they graduate.Skip to next paragraph
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Baltimore school officials like the idea of cash incentives enough that they are now ambitiously expanding the concept. Starting this spring, the school district will pay up to $110 to students who improve their scores on the High School Assessment (HSA) exams. The tests are administered on the four core subject areas needed to graduate in Maryland: American government, algebra, English, and biology.
Once the HSA testing starts in May, the school board will determine if at-risk students – those who have already failed at least one of the exams – are making progress toward graduating. If so, they will receive cash rewards pegged to improvement in their scores.
The district has earmarked almost $1 million for the program over the next 18 months. The goal is to boost the city's graduation rate, which hovers around 60 percent. "It benefits the students as well as the schools," says Roger Shaw, the district official in charge of implementing the program, noting it can help schools meet mandates under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. "The ultimate incentive is they will pass the tests and earn their high school diplomas."
Other cities like the idea of cash rewards, too. New York has launched "Opportunity NYC" as part of a broader antipoverty effort. It pays students in fourth and seventh grades up to $100 for improved scores on English and math exams. The program, privately funded, targets schools in low-income neighborhoods.
Similarly, Fulton County, Georgia, outside Atlanta, has launched a Learn and Earn initiative that pays students at two schools up to $8 an hour to show up for after-hours science and math lessons. The eighth- and 11th-graders were picked for the program based on troubling attendance, grades, and test scores.
Still, critics of cash-reward initiatives argue that they instill the wrong values in kids – promoting a love of money instead of a love of learning. "The question isn't will rewards motivate kids," says Alfie Kohn, author of the book "Punished by Rewards." "The question is what kind of motivation do rewards create?"