Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pay Them for Their As?

My hip former-undergrad-and now-current-grad-school student sent me this link from the Colbert Report. Roland Fryer's "incentive" to get black students to perform better is to pay them for A's. I am both intrigued and repulsed by this idea.

First, full disclosure: my libertarian father used this model with me in High School and it worked like a charm. He used it with my brother and it failed. But, in my brother's case it failed because my Dad usually gave him access to money anyway for his excellent athletic achievements. So, the incentive model is not inherently flawed if properly administered. Who doesn't like money?

Here are my concerns and questions about this model.

(1) Cheating. Where there is money, there are always people trying to game the system and get their cut with minimal effort. Or at least, minimal intellectual effort. What might be the relationship between this program and the rise of bullying?

(2) Reification of a commodity view of education. Ok, I am a "pie in the sky" LAC professor who loves to learn for the sake of learning. Yes, this is probably an effect of my class and thereby relative economic security. But, I spend a great deal of time combatting the rich and middle class students' views of education as a commodity-they-are-paying-for on a regular basis. So, what sort of standing will I have in this debate if the our government starts paying students in middle and high school. What happens to the intrinsic drive to learn?

(3) Should education be vocationally focused? Certainly my former brilliant student (you know who you are!), argued that they are. She too is an economist (thankfully with some Philosophy training for good measure). But, really?

(4) What really intrigues me is that paying for grades somehow resolves all the other profound problems plaguing students in bad school districts or coming from poverty stricken and/or poorly educated families. Which students succeed in this model? Does a cash incentive really give the needed push to transcend these circumstances?

What do the rest of you think?
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