All kids deserve reward for grades

January 27, 2008|By DAN RODRICKS

Right. Right. Right. As if your father never paid you to get better grades. As if you never gave your kids something valuable, maybe even cash, because they did well in school. Paying kids to do what they're supposed to do - study hard and learn - that's not a common practice of the middle class or upper-middle class or the affluent. Families in the counties surrounding Baltimore don't do that sort of thing.

Right.

Our kids just learn for the love of learning.

They don't need no stinkin' bonus.

We would never stoop to bribing them.

Trips to Florida during spring break, a car by junior year, full financial support of their costly club sports - there's no quid pro quo when it comes to grades, is there?

Right.

I listened to a conversation the other day about Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso's controversial plan to pay some 5,000 city students to work harder to improve their grades on the Maryland High School Assessments. They have to pass that test in order to graduate. Too many Baltimore kids have been failing. Alonso wants to give those who failed once a little incentive to do better.

He wants to slip them a few bucks.

Boys and girls who are supposed to graduate in 2009 and 2010 will get $25 for improving test performance by 5 percent, $35 for a 15 percent improvement, and $110 for a 20 percent improvement.

There's been a lot of comment on this since Alonso announced it - most of it condemnation.

The people in the conversation I heard -their knees were jerking so much they were in danger of tearing their ACLs. They sneered at Alonso's idea, ridiculed it, put it down hard.

What? Pay kids to perform in school? Outrageous! Wrong way to go. Wrong message. Kids should learn for the sake of learning. This is a desperate measure by the school system, another liberal, Harvard-inspired giveaway that will never work.

The whole time I'm listening to this - middle class and upper-middle class, middle-aged men and women - I'm thinking, "What? None of them ever got a little something for getting better grades? They never slipped their own kids anything for coming home with A's and B's?"

Look, in case you haven't noticed, the Baltimore public schools serve a mostly needy population of children. It's not their fault. It's just the reality. Nearly 16 percent of Baltimore families live below the government's poverty line ($20,444 or less for a family of four), according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

And a lot of other families live just above the poverty line. These are the families who send their kids to Baltimore schools. Because of their families' income levels, 85 percent of public school students here are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

So the system has a lot of poor kids. And kids from poor families are more at risk for poor academic achievement. You can look it up.

Even if they wanted to give a little incentive for doing better in school, the parents of these kids could not afford it. They can't give them what people who are better off can give them - a warm bed and three meals a day, plus just about anything they want: dance lessons, a ski vacation, a car or SUV, tickets to a concert, gadgets from iPod to Xbox, and other juvenile luxury items.

All of those things are rewards of some kind.

Many well-heeled parents spoil their kids, no doubt.

But most parents and grandparents would not be as generous, if the kids did not hold up their end - good grades, law-abiding behavior and, eventually, high school graduation.

So here's Alonso saying, in essence, "Most of our kids come from families too poor to give them anything as a reward for achievement, so let's slip them a few bucks."

Should the boys and girls who passed the graduation exam the first time get a reward?

Sure. And if I had $1 million to spare, I'd give it to Alonso to put in a fund for those kids.

But the new CEO is going one better. Instead of a gift outright, he plans to set aside $700,000 for peer tutoring - that is, he intends to pay students who've passed the test to tutor those who haven't. He's suggesting the successful kids give back a little something, and get paid a little something.

I don't see the cause for outrage in any of this.

Alonso's plan to pay kids to succeed is hardly a foreign concept. Companies do it all the time. They give bonuses to employees for a variety of reasons - to reward innovation, efficiency and good work, to get employees thinking like the stakeholders in a company, to build loyalty.

That's no different than what many parents do with their kids - bonuses, here and there, for good behavior and good grades - so, in that regard, I don't see where Alonso's proposal is anything out of line.

Like it or not, the Baltimore school system serves as parent for many kids. Slipping some of them a few bucks for working harder is just an extension of that, and it's pennies compared with what the rest of us are able to do for our kids.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.