Aug 252009
Authors: Alicia Williams Daily Utah Chronicle U. Utah

(UWIRE) — It wasn’t so long ago that even some who desperately wanted to go to school couldn’t. Prejudices against individuals of certain genders, races and financial situations dictated the precious opportunity of attending. Things certainly have changed.

Now, kids have to be bribed into attending school. With the increasingly popular pay-for-performance programs popping up all over the country, American students have gone from appreciation of education to an expectation of cash incentives to learn.

Programs range from encouraging student attendance to tardy control, tutoring and stressing good performance on standardized tests and Advanced Placement exams.

They target a wide variety of schools but primarily focus on low-income inner-city areas with predominately low college attendance. One idea is to pay students a monetary award for their hard work and thereby promote good habits to create successful college students.

It’s hard to find fault in the theory. Other than the possibility that in doing so, we are creating a generation of students who will expect to be paid for every effort they make toward knowledge, there aren’t many negatives. Money in students’ pockets instead of money explicitly designated to a college is the newest form of scholarship. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s the right thing to do; it only matters that it works.

According to a New York City program, Rewarding Achievement, or REACH, which pays students up to $1,000 for high scores on AP exams, the opportunity to increase the low number of black and Latino college students is worth the experiment.

“It’s a different type of scholarship,” said Edward Rodriguez, executive director of REACH. “The global nature of economic competition is one that requires our young people to be committed to their studies so that they can develop the skills to compete and participate in an economy that is totally different than yesteryear.”

The sad fact is that these program’s proponents believe money is the only way to promote that commitment. And so far, they are right. The REACH program began offering cash incentives to students at 31 high schools in New York City two years ago.

According to Rodriguez, in 2009, those schools increased enrollment into AP courses by 25 percent, going from 2,843 students in 2007 to 3,561 in 2009. In addition, 1,385 of those students passed the AP exam – an increase of 20 percent from 2007 Rodriguez said. More dramatically, the number of black and Latino students who passed increased 31 percent.

“It’s only an experiment, but we think the trend is only going to improve,” Rodriguez said. “Kids taking AP courses have to put in the work, and so that’s why these financial incentives are not a giveaway. We are focusing kids on something that is important to them in a way that means something to them-500 bucks means something to them. It’s worth the experiment.”

What exactly happened to people wanting to learn for the pure value of gaining knowledge? These programs are functioning successfully on the basis that money will motivate, and as such, they have no evidence of how long this theory will last or what the long-term consequences will be. Better yet, what will happen when these students go to college and have to perform just for the grade, just for the degree or just for the ambition of achieving a future career?

Unfortunately, cash incentives are working, and because they are, school districts all over the nation are jumping on the pay-for-performance bandwagon. Kids are being taught that monetary awards should be attached to everything they do: homework, tests, grades, attendance, learning, creating and achieving.

Soon, nothing will be accomplished without a reward being offered. This could ultimately be the downfall of academia, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Hopefully, kids will still continue to learn for the love of knowledge and not just learn enough to pass the test and say, “Show me the money.”

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