Wednesday, August 8

Cash for kids rehash

Joseph Berger, in today's "On Education" column, discusses the pros and cons of DOE Chief Equality Officer Roland Fryer's plan to pay pay some kids for their performance in school. Berger found parents to mostly rehash familiar arguments about the plan, but he also talked to Manhattan Institute scholar Sol Stern, who suggested an alternative that makes a lot of sense to me: putting the earnings not into kids' hands but into college funds they can access when they graduate from high school.

I can't imagine a few hundred dollars a year, spent immediately on games and play items, making a sustained difference in a child's will to learn, but having a couple thousand dollars in a bank account could make all the difference in the world to a motivated kid for whom college might feel out of reach financially. And this alternative plan would signal that the DOE is concerned with the long-term growth and success of its students, not just the annual testing and attendance bottom line.


Seth Pearce said...

Very cool idea. This way you don't have the added stress from parents who need the money. On the other side: what about kids who don't plan on going to college?

Laura said...

I think the whole point of this idea is to introduce immediate rewards. Putting money into a college account doesn't accomplish the same thing. I happen to think this is an interesting idea. Have no idea if it will work, but I think it's worth trying to find solutions to a socioeconomic achievement gap that most people think is inevitable. Nothing anyone has tried so far has really worked. This might not either, but it's worth exploring.

Philissa said...

Seth, I think I used "college" as a rough synonym for "post-high school plans." I would be thrilled to see kids using their hard-earned funds for real vocational training, which is woefully unavailable in high schools.

Laura, I agree that this is an interesting idea, but I think I have a personal bias against immediate gratification! I also have a more general concern that if this pilot program is successful in reducing the achievement gap, we might see increased public support for moving public money into private hands. This is a dangerous direction to go, because I think it would deflect attention even more from the socioeconomic gap to the achievement gap that clearly results from it. In my mind this shift could weaken people's commitment to combating poverty in other ways, such as by providing affordable health care and housing. Maybe I am seeing the slope as more slippery than it is, and I generally do believe that anything that could work to help kids learn ought to be tried, but I think it's worth considering the possible unintended consequences of this program and the mindset that facilitates it.