I caught a segment on the CBS nightly news the other day that told of a growing trend across the country whereby kids, and their parents, are being paid for meeting educational milestones. So called “Learn and Earn” programs now exist in eleven states and are currently funded with a combination of public and private funds.
In New York, Mayor Bloomberg even pitched in his own money to fund Opportunity NYC, New York’s version of the “Learn and Earn” program which compensates the cities “poorest kids” for passing required regents exams. They also pay parents $25 for attending parent-teacher conferences, and $200 for taking kids to annual physicals. Two Georgia school systems have also recently gotten in on the pay for participation trend, offering to pay kids $8 an hour to attend after-school tutoring.
Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I believe kids ought to have some innate desire to want to learn, and should not have to motivated by the promise of cash. Parents should foster this desire by encouraging lifelong learning, both inside and outside a traditional classroom setting. When did it become the responsibility of taxpayers and private donors to motivate students and their parents to educate themselves? What this really sounds like is a complex welfare system which operates under the guise of an educational reward program.
If you really want to pay low-income students and their families, why not create incentives around good, old-fashioned work, and leave educational goals out of it. By converting current volunteer activities to paid, part time work, parents could be compensated for time spent improving school grounds, working at after-school activities, or assisting teachers with much-needed oversight during the administration of standardized tests, etc. Students could be paid for tutoring younger children (but not for receiving tutoring), assisting with sports programs (team managers), and performing after-school jobs such as painting, grass cutting, etc. Perhaps then kids would take more pride in their schools and parents would be more visible on school grounds, leading to less disciplinary issues.
When I was in school the only motivation we needed to be successful was the threat of failure, summer school or after-school detention. Today’s kids aren’t as concerned with punitive threats, but teaching them to expect cash rewards for doing minimal work will create an entitlement mindset that will stay with them their entire lives. This mindset will lead to a generation of underachievers, content with doing just enough to get by and receive their government rewards. That’s not what American capitalism was built on. Kids should be encouraged to learn, to excel, and to develop and chase their own dreams.