Studying Really Pays Off!
April 22, 2008 6:01 AM   Subscribe

This story from NPR's morning edition discusses a program in a Georgia middle and high school that pays students $8 per day to go to after school study sessions twice a week. Jackie Cushman is the originator of the project. She is also Newt Gingrich's daughter.

Ignoring any ethical issues about whether students should be paid to study, I wonder if the program will work.
posted by wittgenstein (100 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Terrible idea. Once you monetize something, it's very hard to unmonetize it.

The question isn't whether the program will work. The question is, if the program works, how are you going to afford paying and paying and paying once there's an expectation that kids should be paid for doing something they should be doing anyway.

And that's not even addressing the value the student will place on something they were paid to take, rather than paid for themselves.
posted by DU at 6:10 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


You can bribe a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.
posted by anomie at 6:13 AM on April 22, 2008


Lakes said he doesn't believe that an external motivator, like money, can trigger the intrinsic love of learning and achievement that Cushman is hoping for.

No kidding. At least they'll have pleasant memories of easy money when they're pumping gas in the heat for a living.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:15 AM on April 22, 2008


What I like best is the idea that public funds will be used for private issues for students...how does that advance the trickle down GOP agenda?
posted by Postroad at 6:15 AM on April 22, 2008


Well, since a lot of students from low-income families are often working at least a part-time job to supplement income at home, if you pay them to go to school it might just allow them to get through school and still meet those obligations at home. If they are able to complete their education, these kids might even be able to break the cycle of poverty. If you listen to the story, they mention a couple cases like that - a kid who took his math teacher to his afterschool job to beg the manager to change his shifts so he could be tutored in math, for example. I'm not saying the way to bridge these families' income gap is to pay their kids for going to an after school program, but if it benefits these kids, I'm willing to give it try. God konws we throw good money after bad on countless other things, especially here in Atlanta.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:16 AM on April 22, 2008 [10 favorites]



I used to participate it in Upward Bound in High School, and they also provided a stipend for participation in their afterschool and summerschool programs.

It really did serve to offset the cost of attending those events versus working a job somewhere. Particularly in the summer, when the program was a 6 week affair.

It seemed to work pretty well, most of the kids in the program made it to college. (Although in my case, I didn't attend until in my 30s).
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:30 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


It would be nice if we could motivate economically disadvantaged students to love learning and achievement without money. However I don't think our primary motivation in forcing kids to go to school is to persuade them that learning and achievement are their own rewards. Our primary goal is to give them the skills they need to support themselves when they become adults.

If incentivizing effort towards studying could be shown to be effective in producing the results we want, I think any moral qualms about it undermining an abstract love of learning would be secondary, if not actually wrongheaded. It may actually reinforce the idea that this is something that society values, and that they should value too. It's 'putting our money where our mouth is' for these kids. Anyone can spout platitudes about how education is important (and I'd agree with them), but if the kids aren't buying it, then its time to go to plan b.
posted by Reverend John at 6:40 AM on April 22, 2008


One of the more thought-provoking comments made during this story, and one that I think needs to be expanded upon, is that by monetizing education (in this case, meeting minimal education standards) draws a sharp distinction between those who learn something for a small reward and those who learn for the sake of learning. Those who learn because they want to learn are more likely to become independent, self-directed learners going forward, and by extension are more likely to succeed in a knowledge-based economy.

Those who learn what they need to learn in order to get their food pellet will be less likely to break away from the immediate and tangible reward in order to become self-directed learners. These individuals will be more likely to be pigeon-holed into lower-paying, task-oriented jobs where they will continue to receive only trivial sums as compensation.

This schema could only have been thought of by the spawn of Newt Gingrich. Payment for doing your basic math homework: $10. Training a generation to be lower-paid, order-following drones responding to the promise of minimum wage? Priceless.
posted by scblackman at 6:44 AM on April 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's not like money isn't already a critical motivation for education, it's just that it's always been long-term -- do well in school and you'll get into college and ultimately earn a better salary, etc.

I think this could be great, as other posters said, as a way to give people who are already tuned in to the value of school a way to reduce their part-time work hours and study more. But will it actually motivate people who aren't sensitive to the overwhelming long-term economic value of education? Doubt it -- a few bucks can't overcome that kind of isolation from the big picture.
posted by MattD at 7:26 AM on April 22, 2008


Jackie Cushman has a blog.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:34 AM on April 22, 2008


Training a generation to be lower-paid, order-following drones responding to the promise of minimum wage? Priceless.

I doubt this plan was thought out that far. Instead, it follows the trend Republicans sabotaging good ideas by implementing a bad idea (or not funding a good one, or both). Is there a push to finally guarantee universal healthcare? Split off a major voting group AND undermine the entire concept of "bureaucrat-run" programs by screwing up Medicare Part D. Is there a chance that someone more interested in education than bombs is about to be elected? "Throw money at the problem" by paying kids to study and then use the fallout as evidence that increasing the education budget won't work (see also: No Child Left Behind).
posted by DU at 7:39 AM on April 22, 2008


You know, people keep bringing up this idea that there are two possibilities: that students learn because they want to, or that students learn because they're paid to. There is at least one more: students don't learn. Obviously the first possibility is the most desirable, but it is difficult to achieve. It may be impossible to achieve in a large number of cases, especially when the students are economically disadvantaged and come from an environment where their parents and peers may not value education. If this is the case, and its a choice between the second and third possibilities, I think its possible that its a good idea to pay kids as an incentive to study and also to mitigate any financial obstacles to their spending time studying.
posted by Reverend John at 7:42 AM on April 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


I heard that report on NPR this morning, and heard the clip of Newt Gingrich selling the idea. I don't recall the quote verbatim, but he said something like "if you pay kids to do schoolwork, now you're competing with the drug pushers and pimps as a way for kids to make money and giving them a better alternative."

I was appalled. That's it? Those are the only alternatives for underprivileged kids? What a base stereotype.

Interestingly, neither of the kids interviewed for the story said that money was a real factor—one kid said it was a special bus pickup, another said it was having a teacher go to bat for him to have his hours at Walmart rearranged.
posted by adamrice at 7:44 AM on April 22, 2008


Hmm... I like this. In many families in the upper-middle class, there are already monetary and gift incentives for studying and grades. If properly directed to students whose parents aren't offering such incentives, I could see it working to straighten out some of the motivational inequities. I don't think we should kid ourselves: love of learning isn't ever a preference that trumps all other motivations, especially during puberty and adolescence when there are so many social distractions. If monetary incentives help smooth out a kid's raging hormones, so much the better.

Frankly, I'd like to see school, even in higher education, treated more like a job. I'm tired of getting excuses from kids working forty hours a week while taking a full load of classes: those aren't compatible occupations, and while school might not interfere with waiting tables or delivering pizzas, those things do interfere with school.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:47 AM on April 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


This is very similar to the "abstinence vs. sex education" debate--i.e., accepting the way things are vs. the way we wish they were. Except that in this instance, I'm guessing that the political ideology of the realists and idealists are reversed.
posted by Kibbutz at 7:51 AM on April 22, 2008


Terrible idea. Once you monetize something, it's very hard to unmonetize it.

The value of education is already monetized. It is just monetized with such a low discount rate that many students who lack adequate support from family and community do not recognize the real financial impact until it is way too late.
posted by Slap Factory at 7:57 AM on April 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


In many families in the upper-middle class, there are already monetary and gift incentives for studying and grades.

Exactly. "If you do well in school, then you don't have to have a job to pay for the things you want, within reason." "For every A on your report card, we will give you $10." Let's not pretend that upper class families don't already pay their kids to do well in school. It's just not nice when someone pulls the curtain back to reveal that truth, but it's there. Just calling them "rewards" and "consequences" doesn' t mean you're not exchanging money for services.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:01 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I heard this, too. On the one hand, I don't like the idea of paying kids to do something they should be inspired to do anyway. However, we live in the real world, where it can't hurt to pay kids to learn if that payment means that they don't have to seek money elsewhere (as in Newt's hamhanded "explanation"). An Atlanta businessman is funding the project -- for a while anyway. Give it a couple of years, check school records of the kids, and let's see how the numbers shake out. Maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:05 AM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Frankly, I'd like to see school, even in higher education, treated more like a job.

And why not? The idea of being paid for work is hardly a subversive concept. From the student's perspective, school has all the attributes of work without any of the immediate benefits.

But those wages are going to have to be higher.
posted by three blind mice at 8:06 AM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is our children earning?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:11 AM on April 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


It may or may not work. Why not try it is a few places and find out what the results are instead of simply dismissing it because you believe it is worthless with no evidence to support your claim?
posted by Postroad at 8:12 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


This doesn't seem so different to me from the many students who are paid in money, goods, services, or priveleges for acceptable grades, test scores, or other academic performance. How many kids have you known to be paid $n per A on their report card? How many to get $n or a trip or a car or some other payment for making honor roll, passing a graduation test, getting in to the "right" college, getting an acceptable SAT/ACT score? So someone is paying these kids $8 to study and maybe get better grades, maybe get into college or trade school, maybe increase their lifetime earning potential. I think we have a lot bigger worries than this.
posted by notashroom at 8:18 AM on April 22, 2008


Just because wealthier families "pay" their kids to do well doesn't mean it is a good idea. Those kids don't end up any more motivated because of the payment: the motivation is very much a family and cultural thing. If anything, payment works against the teachers and parents trying to instill the idea that education is good for its own sake.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:20 AM on April 22, 2008


With the support of Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts, the pilot program will last 15 weeks and pay students for participation and performance. The object of the program is to determine if paying students to study will improve classroom attendance, grades and test scores, according to a news release from the district.
It's a study, to see how it works. What is wrong with trying something to improve the situation for those that are disadvantaged?

Maybe you think its a bad idea, or it won't work, ok, how much money did you put into it? How much of your tax dollars went into this "bad" cause? None. So there should be little argument against this from a financial resourcing perspective.

Will it cause any temporary or permanent harm to the community or the participants? The program lasts 15 weeks. It's hard to envision a case where this study could have an adverse affect on the community or participants in such a short period of time.

So the only downside I can see is one that can be created by fostering this idea, or the precedent it sets. Ok, I can see that there is a risk there, this is uncharted territory, there are many skeptics about the validity of the program and its long term affects. Hmmmm, what do we normally do in cases where some hypothesize a theory, but it's not universally accepted? Oh yeah, we test it. Perhaps by conducting a trial study over a short period of time.

Now, I could understand if people were to scrutinize the metrics on how to judge whether this study was a success or not. What kind of information is needed to ensure that we can tell, based on the 40 or so participants, and their surrounding community, whether this experiment improved the situation, had a negligible impact, or made things worse? I don't know, but that would be a productive discussion. I don't have a problem if people were to lambaste Cushman or the program because of the way the study was structured or on what metrics were collected and analyzed.

But the amount of people saying essentially we shouldn't pay poor kids to study because it's bad seem to be jumping to conclusions that are based on emotion not on facts. Feel free to support an alternate study that shows a better alternative for these kids. That would be a great way to show how misguided this idea is, but to just say its bad, and offer no alternative other than the status quo? It creates the impression that the detractor actualy favors the status quo over any positive change.
posted by forforf at 8:30 AM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


If you're going to call out Jackie Cushman please at least link to her own web page in addition to her father's. She isn't even mentioned by name on Newt Gingrich's page.
posted by Alison at 8:32 AM on April 22, 2008


I see that it has already been mentioned. I'll be quiet now.
posted by Alison at 8:32 AM on April 22, 2008


What interests me about this scheme is that in high school, kids are paid to go to school, study, or whatever. But at the same time, student loans for education are being cut off, the interest rates are rising, and those who may have been able to get a loan - and go to college - are no longer considered 'acceptable risk'.
Of course, I've only seen a couple of articles about this, so I don't know how serious it is. But I do find it interesting that on one hand, the student gets paid to stay in school, yet when they try to continue their education (if they want to), they may not be able to because they just don't have the funds.
Why subsidize one level and not the other?
posted by sandraregina at 8:36 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


My child is going to pay me for anything less than a B-.
posted by DenOfSizer at 8:42 AM on April 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, since a lot of students from low-income families are often working at least a part-time job to supplement income at home, if you pay them to go to school it might just allow them to get through school and still meet those obligations at home.

In Philadelphia, students have had to pay for public transportation to get to school. Only recently was this changed. When young kids are taught early by the government that they have to make their own way to school, I have to find general criticisms of this program kind of ridiculous.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:58 AM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't really care about the idealism of it- whether kids should want to learn or whatever; the whole "but kids should WANT to go to school!" thing seems like moralistic silliness. What matters is getting these children an education. If we have to pay them to do that, so be it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:06 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


... the whole "but kids should WANT to go to school!" thing seems like moralistic silliness. What matters is getting these children an education. If we have to pay them to do that, so be it.

And what happenes when the children want a raise or cost-of-living adjustment? How are these children expected to learn the concept of deferred-gratification (the absence of which can easily be linked with broader social problems such as obesity, a negative savings rate, and unprecedented consumer debt)?

I think that monetizing academic achievement steps onto a slippery slope that I don't relaly want to see the bottom of. Remember, the children of today will be your doctors, lawyers, scientists and teachers of tomorrow. Well, maybe not ... unless we pay them all the way through professional or graduate school.
posted by scblackman at 9:13 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I, and most people I know, got paid to go to graduate school.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:17 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


If anything, payment works against the teachers and parents trying to instill the idea that education is good for its own sake.

Education is good for it's own sake, but money is the reason that the vast majority of people educate themselves (regardless of how many learnophiles there are on metafilter). People who graduate from high school have more opportunities than people who never did. People who graduate from college have further opportunities still. I don't think there's enough data to believe that the program is doomed because it addresses results from the wrong ideological perspective. It might very well be the bandaid that some of these kids need to be able to say to themselves "Holy crap, I might get to graduate high school" or "Wow, I could go to college".
posted by 23skidoo at 9:30 AM on April 22, 2008


I heard this story this morning. It was light on evidence whether the program works or not. The idea struck me as bit odd on first pass, but not nearly as odd as the professor they were quoting who criticized the study. I'm a first generation college student. And I was the first because I was privileged to be able to take a lot of advanced courses in high school without distractions. My parents didn't have much in the way of expendable income, but they recognized that education was my ticket to better choices than they've had. They never pressured me to get a job after school or on weekends. They encouraged me to make schoolwork my #1 priority. In college, I did need to work during the week. But not in high school.

I was pretty good at school. I just needed some time alone with the books, without distractions, and my parents made sure I got that. I can't relay to you the number of people I knew who were not given that space and who struggled because of it. One of the smartest guys in my graduating class manages a fast food restaurant. He's good at it. I think he's happy, from what I hear, but I know he tried another path first and work got in the way. He wanted to go to college, but he had no family support at all. He couldn't study and work full time at the same time. I know there are people who manage to do that, but damn, it is hard. Even now I watch my younger cousins struggle to finish high school while working lots of hours at entry-level jobs after school and on weekends. Their parents really pressure them to bring home those paychecks. And that is what gets celebrated. School is just not that high of a priority. Go, do well enough, but then go to your job. That's what really counts. Don't fail, but don't spend all night on something to get an A, either. Just be good enough, and be sure to bring home that paycheck.

My sister and I are outliers in our family. And that's before you factor in our college and graduate work. We entered college with at least a semester's worth of credit each. We got scholarships, grants, loans, work study, summer jobs. And the critical step that made all of that possible was that we were students first in high school. Everything else was secondary. It was the one thing my parents could give us, and it was more valuable than everything my rich friends' parents could buy them. Neither of us took any of those pricey test prep courses, but we didn't need to. We just studied. The precious thing was that we could take the time to do that, and we could because our parents told us, "School is your job right now."

So yeah, I heard this on the radio this morning, and it wasn't what I would have tried, in the same position. But it does make some sense. The real test is what these students do with the chance, now and later. It may work, or not, but I'll judge it based on evidence and nothing else. NPR didn't go into that-- it was all anecdotal. They interviewed a couple of kids, and their accounts differed from a teacher's generalizations. I know too many people for whom this might have been a critical opportunity to just dismiss it out of hand.

Lakes said he doesn't believe that an external motivator, like money, can trigger the intrinsic love of learning and achievement that Cushman is hoping for.

I do have an intrinsic love of learning, but I have encountered more people with it who couldn't pursue it than I have people who have it and could. I was deeply disappointed to find that an intrinsic love of learning was rare in my college courses. It's fascinating to me that someone who comes from a university environment is criticizing this program as not being pure enough. Does he really think college courses are filled with students who love to learn? Does he really think education isn't monetized already?
posted by Tehanu at 9:36 AM on April 22, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'm not entirely opposed to the idea, mainly because I don't see anything inherently wrong with motivation. Trying to tell people what their motivations should be, and therefore ignoring motivations that could actually work, doesn't make sense to me. It seems reasonable to me that for someone from a financially disadvantaged background, money might be a powerful motivator.

What keeps me from being actually sold on it is the thought that perhaps we keep lowering the bar; for example, in the past the norm was that you were expected to get good grades for little more than parental praise, and now it's that your parents give you money for good grades. I have been feeling for some time now that wanting to learn is looked at with raised eyebrows by mainstream society. From my husband's coworker who asked him why he was reading (not what, but why), to the person who asked me to define the word "pedantic" then called me pedantic for using such a "big" word, I feel like we're pulling away from education little by little.

So, to summarize, I'm torn.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:36 AM on April 22, 2008


How are these children expected to learn the concept of deferred-gratification (the absence of which can easily be linked with broader social problems such as obesity, a negative savings rate, and unprecedented consumer debt)?

They sure as hell aren't learning it when they have to work instead of studying.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:39 AM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


It might very well be the bandaid that some of these kids need to be able to say to themselves "Holy crap, I might get to graduate high school" or "Wow, I could go to college".

Do we want people that are motivated only by short-term money to go to college? A college degree is wortwhile in part because it sets the recipient apart from people without another four years of education - if we were to encourage otherwise uninterested people to attend college, we would in effect be spending money to dilute the value of a college degree.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:04 AM on April 22, 2008


I, and most people I know, got paid to go to graduate school.

I'll take issue with this. You (and I, and most people I know as well) probably received a stipend (not a salary or hourly wage) as compensation for being teaching assistants or graduate assistants. You may have received a scholarship for your academic achievements to date. Or you received a stipend as a means of financial assistance because you couldn't work full-time (as an adult) and attend graduate school full time. Children, on the other hand, are supposed to be cared for by the parents (feed, clothed, housed) and shouldn't need to be compensated for the lost opportunity cost to work while they're in school.

Plus, unless you were unemployable for some reason, you went to graduate school to learn (e.g., to achieve a better job or other opportunity) and not to get paid. But of course you're an adult, so you can tell the difference between getting supported through your education and getting paid to go to shcool. How willing are you to bet that a child will be able to draw the same clear distinction and not come to expect to get paid to go to school? Are you willing to risk that child's future on it?
posted by scblackman at 10:07 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think it's a great idea. I have a kid in high school who is constantly struggling with his grades, partly because of learning disabilities (once you're in high school, all the nice mainstreaming and extra help for kids with disabilities evaporates fast.) He needs afterschool help and so I'm currently paying someone $10 an hour to provide just that. He said when the whole arrangement started that he was the one who should be getting paid to do the extra work, not his tutor. Once I got past my immediate parental "Ha ha aren't you precious you rotten little capitalist why can't you just get decent grades like your sister did without extra help" reaction, I realized that he was right. He is the one doing the work and the fact that he needs to do the extra work because of disabilities is sort of beside the point. There are a lot of reasons why kids need extra help and lots of kids who, for whatever reason, aren't getting it. I can't think of any kid who wouldn't work harder with a financial incentive. I pay my son to mow half the lawn and he does it; if he was paid to stay after school and study he would do that too. For kids, school is their job. They have to show up on time and not miss classes and obey their bosses and yet we expect them to do it for a vague sense of their future. Paying them for over and above shows that their work is recognized and valued.

Hell, when I was in high school I would totally have stayed after school for $8. Be real. Most high school kids are not motivated by some abstract love of learning. I sure wasn't; I was just lucky because I got good grades without studying or, frankly, showing up half the time.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:10 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Terrible idea. Once you monetize something, it's very hard to unmonetize it.

Well, the only point of education for most people is getting a good job. So it's already 'monetized' in the first place.
posted by delmoi at 10:11 AM on April 22, 2008


Do what works.

If payments keep kids in school who otherwise wouldn't attend, and if that eventually means lower crime rates, lower welfare rates, lower teen pregnancy rates, a better supply of skilled blue-collar and white-collar workers, a stronger economy, and these kids growing into happier adults, eight dollars isn't enough.

Who knows if this particular program will mean any of those things, but a good education generally does, whereas dropping out is a good way to fuck yourself up. The program's worth a shot. If it fails, stop. If it works, expand.
posted by pracowity at 10:11 AM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


There are a couple people who are criticizing this on the "once you pay them, you take away the intrinsic reward" thing. I think that's a very poor criticism. For one thing some people just don't have that intrinsic reward, so it can't be taken away. For another thing, we're talking about high school students, who are probably going to be pretty set in their ways by now.

If you really love learning by the time you get to college, getting paid to do it won't take that away. If you don't really love learning, then frankly it causes problems for society if you don't get an education. Finding ways to motivate these people to learn stuff important as we move forward toward less and less manual labor.

Or, we could simply setup a welfare state where less intelligent people are just paid to stay out of trouble. I'd be fine with that but it would never fly in the U.S.A which fetishizes "hard work" as a virtue.
posted by delmoi at 10:23 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do we want people that are motivated only by short-term money to go to college? A college degree is wortwhile in part because it sets the recipient apart from people without another four years of education

How terrible for you that your class distinctions are being threatened. You might have to- *gasp* judge people on their merit and not on class signifiers!
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:24 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


"As a kid, I was fortunate to have enough food to eat, but like many of the NYC kids I wanted to buy things too, cool things. But with only odd-job and allowance money, I had to wrestle my dreams into a connection with my long-term efforts. I learned to believe that if I worked hard in school that I would be rewarded with a chance for a good job, along with it the opportunity to have whatever I wanted, within reason of course. On the upside, I did not negotiate my day-to-day behavior with my parents or teachers for some immediate reward, this is not how life works."
posted by weston at 10:36 AM on April 22, 2008


Children, on the other hand, are supposed to be cared for by the parents
It's that supposed to that worries me. I see lots (and lots and lots) of children who aren't taken care of by their parents. I think it's worth a chance.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:37 AM on April 22, 2008


Do we want people that are motivated only by short-term money to go to college? A college degree is wortwhile in part because it sets the recipient apart from people without another four years of education - if we were to encourage otherwise uninterested people to attend college, we would in effect be spending money to dilute the value of a college degree.

Bourgeois pig. You prefer people to be motivated to go to college because it's the default choice among people of their class? Or because it's four years of drinking and fucking?

Dilute the value of a college degree, my ass.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:43 AM on April 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm confused -- is this paying low income kids to learn, or underachieving kids to learn? Because it seems likely to cause kids to want to underachieve in order to get paid. Which seems to defeat the purpose. If its for lower income kids, and its open to all lower income kids the way, say, free lunches are, then maybe it has merit. But still seems problematic from the stand point of what they then DO with the money -- maybe it should be vouchers from wal-mart or money into an account for college.

I understand from an intellectual standpoint that I was raised with a lot of advantages, like middle class parents who highly valued education and worked hard to put me - and four siblings - through private elementary schools and then through college. But the system seems to provide strange incentives around learning. I put myself through law school with student loans, and now I make too much money to claim the student loan deduction on my taxes. My parents worked really hard so that my dad could retire early -- when I was in the 8th grade, actually, and he was 55 - and even though he was living mainly on a modest pension, the process for qualifying for financial aid was such that we didn't qualify because of the assets he had in his home and in his retirement accounts. If he'd spent the money from those accounts, he wouldn't have been able to live.

Again, I understand that the above circumstances mean that I am incredibly fortunate human being and a good portion of that fortune is sheer luck of being born in America to white middle class parents. But damn it, may parents worked hard, despite no help from the system.

I'm not sure what my point is, other than if paying kids to learn works, then maybe we should pay ALL kids to learn. Otherwise it seems like we're penalizing kids who like to learn, or parents who liked to learn in the past.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:44 AM on April 22, 2008


I don't think that monetization of studying is really a problem. If that's the best way to instill a sense of value into something, then perhaps they are on to something.

When I went to law school, I realized it was costing me something like $60/hr to attend. Missing a three hour class was like wasting close to $200, which could have been spent on a ton of things. Heck, missing 20 minutes meant wasting enough money for a really nice lunch. And if $60 an hour wasn't worth going to law school, then why even apply and enroll in the first place?

The point is, I never missed a class, and made up any tardiness by taking up the professor's time in office hours.

So, although my situation does not properly analogize, I essentially don't think that monetization of studying is in and of itself a problem; although its implementation may be.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:52 AM on April 22, 2008


Some context for this:

This program is one of a species of incentive based poverty-alleviation programs technically referred to as "conditional cash transfers". They've been used a lot over the past ten years in Latin America, with some really impressive results. The original example is the Oportunidades program in Mexico, which pays impoverished families if their children receive (state-provided) medical care or attend school. It's generally regarded as a great success. There was a large study in The Lancet last month showing significant gains in child heath and development. There's been an increasing deployment of programs like these throughout Latin America (particularly in Nicaragua and Brazil) in the past few years, and even a pilot "Opportunities" program in New York City.

This is really hot stuff in current discussions of social welfare programs, but it does tend to be embraced by free-market neoliberal types, so it might not pass the ideological purity test for many of you.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:00 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do we want people that are motivated only by short-term money to go to college? A college degree is wortwhile in part because it sets the recipient apart from people without another four years of education - if we were to encourage otherwise uninterested people to attend college, we would in effect be spending money to dilute the value of a college degree.

Dear god yes, I want poor kids going to college. The value of a college degree is that it proves you passed the courseload. That's it. That's how it's been for decades. Having poor uninterested people go to college isn't going to dilute the value of a college degree, because colleges routinely give degrees to non-poor uninterested people.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:14 AM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm confused -- is this paying low income kids to learn, or underachieving kids to learn?

The article says:
A pilot project sponsored by a local foundation is offering a group of low-income students $8 an hour to go to after-school study sessions twice a week. [...]

More than 60 percent of the students are considered low-income; more than 90 percent are minorities; and the schools trail district-wide achievement rates by eye-popping margins.
Some of both.

... it seems like we're penalizing kids who like to learn, or parents who liked to learn in the past.

Then try to think of it this way: kids who get a good education are more likely to be with you than against you as adults, more likely to share your burden than to become your burden. If you think paid homework is bad, what do you think about the much greater benefits given to unemployable drop-outs?
posted by pracowity at 11:14 AM on April 22, 2008


Bourgeois pig. You prefer people to be motivated to go to college because it's the default choice among people of their class? Or because it's four years of drinking and fucking?

How terrible for you that your class distinctions are being threatened. You might have to- *gasp* judge people on their merit and not on class signifiers!

Jeez, Marx, calm down. I don't think well-to-do people that aren't interested in education for its own sake (even as a proxy for long-term financial gain) should go to college either. I went to high school with a number of people from fairly well-off families that failed out of well-respected colleges, failed out of community colleges, and ended up dicking around doing nothing - versus doing something like a vocational school or a job where they learned as they worked. The reality is that if the guy digging a ditch goes to college, grad school becomes the new college and so on. I think we should seek to promote people solely on academic merit - no legacy admissions, no race preferences, no paying high schoolers to go to school, etc. The idea that everyone should to college ignores the fact that for a lot of people it isn't a good investment or use of their time. I realize it is difficult to ask a young person to decide how much they value education for their own sake, but it is better than bribing people to get through high school.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:14 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dear god yes, I want poor kids going to college. The value of a college degree is that it proves you passed the courseload. That's it. That's how it's been for decades. Having poor uninterested people go to college isn't going to dilute the value of a college degree, because colleges routinely give degrees to non-poor uninterested people.

I think everyone interested in college should go to college. I don't think everyone, including people who aren't interested in learning, should go to college. College degrees are diluted in value by even wealthy uninterested people getting them, because they cease to be a good measure of a person's academic involvement and interest in learning. I think paying people to get through high school sets a bad standard for what they can expect in higher education and doesn't really correspond to an employment situation.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:23 AM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


education for its own sake (even as a proxy for long-term financial gain)

These are not the same thing.

I think we should seek to promote people solely on academic merit

That's wonderful and all, but people need education, and as time goes on and technology improves more people need more education.

I realize it is difficult to ask a young person to decide how much they value education for their own sake, but it is better than bribing people to get through high school.

High schoolers, with a few exceptions, haven't a fucking clue what they want to do with their lives. Making one's future depend even more heavily on knowing what you want for your life and valuing education for its own sake at an age when most people are so overwhelmed with hormones that they couldn't think straight if you stuck their brains in a brain-wide straight hallway is insanity and unfair to students.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:26 AM on April 22, 2008


College degrees are diluted in value by even wealthy uninterested people getting them, because they cease to be a good measure of a person's academic involvement and interest in learning.

Give me a damn break. When college degrees are credentials for professional, non-academic fields, the idea that they should be badges of academic skill and passion is ludicrous.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


That's wonderful and all, but people need education, and as time goes on and technology improves more people need more education.

I don't disagree at all. I don't think we want the guy that spends most of high school skipping class to get paid to stop doing that so he can get into college, no matter how much his parents make. Where, then, is the incentive to do any better in higher education?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:31 AM on April 22, 2008


Pracowity - I hear you, and I wish all kids everywhere would get a good education. And certainly I'd rather pay kids $8 to do homework than have to later pay unemployable drop-outs through various social programs. From that stand point I think its a great idea -- I'm constantly thinking that too much money is spent on fixing the results instead of the root of the problem (in many contexts, but certainly in social contexts).

But something about this is striking me as unfair and counterproductive. I'm not finding the words to explain it very well, though. Again, I'm blessed with parents who think education is important, and from a very young age I have always loved to read and loved to learn. I did it because I liked it. Would I have liked someone to pay me to do it? Sure. Would that have made me better at it? Probably not. If kids that got Cs were getting paid $8 to raise their grades, would I have gotten Cs instead of As so that I could get the money too? Quite possibly. Would that have meant I learned less? Nope -- I would have "cheated" my way to worse grades, but I still would have learned.

Maybe it makes sense to pay kids to learn *skills* that will help them be employable, and help them in life -- electronics or engine repair or secretarial or accounting/bookkeeping or typing or home economics stuff or the type of civics that might count-- and certainly basic reading and math skills. But will paying high school kids who don't find learning fun to learn chemistry or to read the Grapes of Wrath make them more employable? Or help them learn to love learning for learnings sake? I doubt it.

None of this is to say that I don't think this is worth looking into. We should look for something that works.

In the mean time, I appreciate what people like Rob Davis are trying to do -- to teach kids skills and help them in tangible practical ways.

It's going to take a lot of people trying a lot of different things to help address all these things. I applaud people who make it their life's mission to try.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:37 AM on April 22, 2008


For those of you who think the program is unfair, do you also regard food stamps as unfair?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:43 AM on April 22, 2008


I realize it is difficult to ask a young person to decide how much they value education for their own sake, but it is better than bribing people to get through high school.

You make a completely unjustified value judgement here: that it is better to allow some (who knows how many?) qualified but currently unmotivated (because of poverty, or dire family conditions, or simple shortsightedness) students to fall through the cracks than to provide financial incentives to attend an afterschool program. I contend that it is, in fact, better to provide the initial incentives than to lose potentially qualified students to a life of poverty.

In fact, I can't even conceive of an argument that defends your position.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:51 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm essentially annoyed by the idea that we should pay individuals to take advantage of an institution that is already free to them for an end that our society reveres so thoroughly you would have to be living under a rock to miss it. That creates exactly the wrong incentives and promotes only the basest kind of self-interest: not self-betterment, not planning for the future, but instant gratification.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:14 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, I think the state of Georgia can safely ignore your self-satisfied indignation in considering how it seeks to improve the education it provides to disadvantaged adolescents.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:22 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Inspector.Gadget, you seem to be making moralistic, "screw those ingrates" arguments more than anything related to pragmatically getting people educated.

I mean, I appreciate your demonstrating precisely why I dig Mill and not Kant, but is the moralism in your comments apparent to you?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:26 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


College degrees are diluted in value by even wealthy uninterested people getting them, because they cease to be a good measure of a person's academic involvement and interest in learning.

Yeah, but you can't dilute water by adding water. It's still water.

College diplomas are no longer a measure of a person's academic involvement or interest in learning.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:29 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


That creates exactly the wrong incentives and promotes only the basest kind of self-interest: not self-betterment, not planning for the future, but instant gratification.

You know what? I agree. Let's stop paying all doctors, lawyers, politicians, and businessmen, while we're at it. Those positions already come with a large degree of respect and importance, and we ought not to confuse these worthy professions with monetization that might encourage 'instant gratification.'
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:36 PM on April 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Pope Guilty: of course food stamps are "unfair" if "fair" means everyone gets the same thing. The government provides food stamps to some people, and not to me, so in the strictest sense of the word, it isn't fair. Do I think we shouldn't have food stamps? No, I don't - I think that food stamps are part of a social services network designed to help people in unfortunate circumstances who can't afford food.

To accept that paying kids to learn = food stamps, you have to accept that school is part of the same social services network. Maybe it is, maybe it is not. But if there is one school - like the high school where I went - that is very diverse economically, this is going to be perceived as unfair by students. Student A is a middle class child who gets good grades. Student B is a lower class student who gets good grades. Student C is a lower class student who gets poor grades. Student D is a middle class student who gets poor grades. Who is going to get paid to do homework? All of them? None of them? Half of them based on grades? Based on class? Because if you're doing it based on grades, if I'm Student A or B, the incentive is to get worse grades so I can get paid to do what I'm already doing. If it's based on class, and I'm student A or B, I'm going to be upset that people who are doing worse in school than I am are getting paid for it.

School's already free - Students A, B, C, and D have access to the exact same school with the exact same resources (that isn't to say all four are equally capable of taking advantage of those resources, of course). I think that makes it different than food stamps.

Maybe the answer to the problem above is that you only provide this program in a school full of mostly underachieving, lower class kids. Then it's more like food stamps - a social services program aimed at trying to level the intrinsic unfairness created at birth by who you're born to. Or maybe the answer is to provide something other than cash -- maybe money that goes into an account that can be used for further schooling, or some kind of training, or paid out as a bond upon graduation, or vouchers to help the family pay for basic services. Middle class kids won't feel bad that they aren't getting vouchers to help pay for heat because their family has heat. Maybe it'll make them think more about how lucky they are, and how not everyone has it so good. But to just give cash, and to only give that to some people based on some subjective criteria, I think, is cause for a whole new ball of unrest.

I just want to be clear that I don't think it's "unfair" as in "it's unfair to pay kids to learn" or even "it's unfair to pay disadvantaged kids to learn". The world isn't a fair place, and it isn't fair that some kids are disadvantaged in the first place. I just think that it raises some interesting questions about incentive, and interaction, and that it's all complicated by the fact that we're talking about kids.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:02 PM on April 22, 2008


...but is the moralism in your comments apparent to you?

Absolutely. I don't think reducing everything to a flimsy conception of "pragmatism" is the best way to solve problems. There is absolutely no reason to pay people not to be stupid by ignoring the real benefits of education.


Well, I think the state of Georgia can safely ignore your self-satisfied indignation in considering how it seeks to improve the education it provides to disadvantaged adolescents.


Being smug and dismissive never serves to refute an argument.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:17 PM on April 22, 2008


I came here wanting to blast the idea. And then I read the comments about work vs. education. I'm convinced. Run it for 15 weeks, see what happens. If it can mean more kids graduating, forget college, just finishing high school, then it's a success and should be kept up.
posted by Hactar at 1:21 PM on April 22, 2008


Being smug and dismissive never serves to refute an argument.

Pot, kettle.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:25 PM on April 22, 2008


Pot, kettle.

Show me where I implied that your opinion as it pertains to the subject at hand, rather than your jibe at mine, was irrelevant. You lead first with an ad hominem and it went downhill from there.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:35 PM on April 22, 2008


> There are a couple people who are criticizing this on the "once you pay them, you take away the intrinsic reward" thing.

Yes, and that's right up there with supporting abstinence-only sex ed by saying "Kids should want to be chaste."


I say monetize the hell out of it. I can think of a thousand things we spend massive amounts of money on that are less important than getting kids through school. But my main reason for supporting this idea is a bit more fundamental: if you make somebody work, you owe him.
posted by jfuller at 1:43 PM on April 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Show me where I implied that your opinion as it pertains to the subject at hand, rather than your jibe at mine, was irrelevant.

I didn't say anything about your implications about my opinions blahblah whatever. I called you smug and dismissive. You've provided no justifications for your opinions beyond your own smug moralizing. And when pressed, you just provided more unsupported moralizing.

"The children should want to learn for learning's own sake!" Give me a break.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:53 PM on April 22, 2008


I don't really care about the idealism of it- whether kids should want to learn or whatever; the whole "but kids should WANT to go to school!" thing seems like moralistic silliness. What matters is getting these children an education. If we have to pay them to do that, so be it.

It's more than just a moral objection. Education is not a passive process, and you really can't educate someone involuntarily. You can brainwash, yes, you can indoctrinate, you can militarize and train to shoot, but you cannot educate without consent, because education is not a question of coming into the classroom, but rather voluntarily taking the classroom mindset out into the world. Education requires working overtime.

Our problem, I think, is our increasingly anti-intellectual culture: it's who we elect as heroes and who we deride as herbs. You can't expect a scientific mindset to take root in a culture saturated with the values of Sparta - glorifying in the body and war, led by mystics and generals.

This program might solve specific cases where a student is faced into a dilemma of work vs school, but I'm not sure any amount of government vouchers are going to trigger a landslide cultural shift from football scholarships and Nascar to physics. This is something that has to happen through our cultural dialogue and in the home.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:54 PM on April 22, 2008


I don't think reducing everything to a flimsy conception of "pragmatism" is the best way to solve problems.

I usually think of morality as a reason to help people. When people use it as a reason not to help people, I pretty much shut down, since there's nothing to be done but call names at that point.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:56 PM on April 22, 2008


This program might solve specific cases where a student is faced into a dilemma of work vs school, but I'm not sure any amount of government vouchers are going to trigger a landslide cultural shift from football scholarships and Nascar to physics.

Then let's use it for what it's good for and not expect some kind of cultural renaissance. That something is not a panacea does not mean that it is not a good treatment.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:57 PM on April 22, 2008


I don't think reducing everything to a flimsy conception of "pragmatism" is the best way to solve problems.

I don't think you know what 'pragmatism' means. If the rhetoric of morality or personal responsibility or self-control or learning-for-learning's-sake is what 'solves the problem,' than that's the pragmatic solution. Pragmatism = experimentation = democratic method = what works. What I find interesting is that your response to creative problem-solving is to immediately retreat to a space of principled rejection that overemphasizes self-reliance. Moreover, you've already admitted that this self-reliant move is a fiction for those, like you, who make it.... Your parents made your studies possible through subsidies, but for kids whose parents can't you don't think the state should help out. So I just don't understand where you're coming from, especially because you keep on moving back and forth between the position that it 'raises some interesting questions' and the position that it's 'unfair and counterproductive.' Which is it?
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:01 PM on April 22, 2008


"The children should want to learn for learning's own sake!" Give me a break.

The children should want to learn because it is clearly in their own best interest to be educated for a whole host of reasons.

When people use it as a reason not to help people, I pretty much shut down, since there's nothing to be done but call names at that point.

This is hardly the only way to help those students. That's painting with an overbroad brush.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2008


A July 2004 NFAP report showed that 60 percent of the nation's top science students and 65 percent of the top math students are the children of immigrants. The NFAP study also showed that foreign-born high school students make up 50 percent of the 2004 U.S. Math Olympiad's top scorers, 38 percent of the U.S. Physics Team, and 25 percent of the Intel Science Talent Search finalists--the United States' most prestigious awards for young scientists and mathematicians. (here)

Is this what happens when kids don't photosynthesize under a television for 4 hours a day?

Of course, one benefit of this program is that if you pay kids to spend more time after-hours at school, they'll spend less time soaking in American Idol.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:05 PM on April 22, 2008


but for kids whose parents can't you don't think the state should help out.

Not true at all. If a person is genuinely interested in learning, than we shouldn't allow them to be held back by poverty. There are plenty of other programs better suited to dealing with poverty that don't involve changing the incentives to actually finish high school. I don't think that this program is particularly well-suited to helping people for whom poverty, rather than a lack of interest, is the barrier.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:06 PM on April 22, 2008


The children should want to learn because it is clearly in their own best interest to be educated for a whole host of reasons.

But if there are family or social or economic issues interfering with their clear recognition of those reasons, we must not provide financial incentives for afterschool programs because...???

See what's missing?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:06 PM on April 22, 2008


I don't think that this program is particularly well-suited to helping people for whom poverty, rather than a lack of interest, is the barrier.

Based on what? Conditional cash transfer programs have been incredibly successful in incentivizing children to attend school in Mexico. Why isn't it "well-suited" here?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:09 PM on April 22, 2008


There are plenty of other programs better suited to dealing with poverty that don't involve changing the incentives to actually finish high school.

Well, my comment was addressed to dpx.mfx but since you responded, I'll ask you: WHICH programs are better suited to dealing with poverty? How do you know how much better or worse these programs are, since this one hasn't yet been fully tested?
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:10 PM on April 22, 2008


The children should want to learn because it is clearly in their own best interest to be educated for a whole host of reasons.

And that doesn't matter, because for any of a number of reasons they don't understand that, so why even bring it up. you're like a plumber who stares at broken pipes and says "Well, I'm not going to put them back together, because they should work without needing to be fixed."
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:17 PM on April 22, 2008


I knew the average MeFite was born of privilege but I had no idea how sentimental some of y'all are.

I don't know if paying kids for time studying will ultimately help anyone but the idea that education isn't (or shouldn't be) monetized is flat wrong. Despite the fact that an education costs money in the firs place (and there for has a dollar value) there is also the fact that, for the most part, the quality of education relates directly to income and always has. What people don't seem to understand is that if you are poor — I mean really poor— your needs are immediate. Like today. You can't study beciase you have to get ten dollars for your mom to pay her rent and buy groceries TODAY. Sure. Studying today might one day provide you with a good career that supports your family. But that's tomorrow. When you live in the projects today is all that counts.

And somebody up thread called it bigoted to assume poor people don't have other options besides gangs and selling drugs... I think it was:
Those are the only alternatives for underprivileged kids? What a base stereotype.

What? Surely us white people have at least watched The Wire. Fuck if it's NOT sometimes the only alternative in many places in the US. I wonder where people live when they say things like that? Yeah there may be other options... but they either don't know about them or can't get to them.

I wonder if some of you understand what happened to education in the inner city in this country in the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's. Some schools are just NOW getting things like computers and the internet. These schools are decades behind their suburban or rich district peers. For a long time there wasn't much TO value in education in many, many, places. Despite the best efforts of teachers and administrators. Education (like the rest of social welfare system) was fucked by the Reagan through Clinton administrations and is currently being fucked by the Bush administration.

Buffy has daddy buy her a new Cabriolet when she gets an A. Why can't some poor kid get some money and a safe place to study to encourage him or her? Because some middle class MeFite has some gooey emotional idea of the purity of education? Take those elbow patches of your tweed.

The fact that assholes like Gingrinch are proposing this is amazing. It used to be the Arch-conservatives were DEEELIGHTED when inner city kids were killing each other and not getting educated. Base? THAT was base, my friends.
posted by tkchrist at 2:30 PM on April 22, 2008 [7 favorites]


Take those elbow patches off your tweed. heh.
posted by tkchrist at 2:32 PM on April 22, 2008


Keep in mind that we're talking about a program that starts in MIDDLE SCHOOL here.

The gap in math abilities between white kids and black kids starts in the sixth grade, for God's sake. I've done tutoring for the PENCIL Foundation, and it's amazing to watch the change in kids during that year. Inevitable social life and home life start to squeeze the joy of learning out of them, and yet many can be reached with just a small incentive here, a minor reward there. Nobody has natural preferences at that age, they're still growing up, becoming somebody capable of being held responsible for their actions. This is when interventions are most needed, and I have to say: we're largely failing at supplying them.

For those who don't like the program: why are you so scared of trying something new when all the old strategies have failed? For someone touting the principled love of learning, you sure seem opposed to the search for knowledge.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:37 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


/me sees elbow patches coming off; grabs popcorn.
posted by Hicksu at 2:38 PM on April 22, 2008


Anotherpanecea - I think you're mixing up comments, becuase I never mentioned pragmatism in my comments.

And mostly I'm just thinking outloud, I guess - something about this strikes me as unfair and counterproductive in an immediate reaction kind of level for all the reasons I stated above -- depending on the critera, I can see it leading to kids gaming the system or creating some new schism/way for kids to group themsevles ("hey, the dumb kids/poor kids/dumb and poor kids get paid to study -- why don't I" or "haha they're dumb and poor"). I can also see it leading to some kids pretending to get bad grades. Those things seem counterproductive.

I also think the entire idea raises interesting questions -- about how we educate, why we educate, and the interaction of adults and kids.

I do not think that attempting to make certain all our kids are educated is a bad idea. I don't think that providing incentives in some form is a bad idea. I don't even think that economizing the incentives is a bad idea. I think that providing CASH to some kids while not providing it to others may cause problems no one has really thought about. I tried to articulate some ways I thought those problems might be dealt with.

And my parents subsidized college, and I am absolutely 100% for subsidizing college for anyone who can't afford it and wants to go. My parents chose to subsidize my elementary education (but I did go to public high school - without any subsidy at all). But we're not talking about college and we're not even talking about the education - we're talking about paying kids to study after school. If the idea is that this is good because poor children in high school would otherwise need a job, I understand why this might help. If we're talking about trying to make kids learn to love learning, I'm not sure it will. If we're talking about getting kids to graduate from high school so they'll be employable later, I'm suggesting that the money would be well spent if it focused on helping kids learn actual skills instead of not-necessarily practical topics. That isnt' to say it wouldn't also be well spent helping kids learn algebra so they can pass whatever set of standards the system has set for them to pass to graduate. It's just another idea.

At any rate, I don't see anything contradictory between thinking this is an interesting debate, and thinking that this might be counterproductive or unfair. I don't know whether it would be or it wouldn't - that's what makes it an interesting topic, I think.

I'm not sure I understand your point about self-reliance, maybe that's mixing up comments again. I do think we should help all kids be self-reliant; I don't think that has anything to do with teaching them what they would need to graduate high school. I appreciate that there are people out there trying to help kids do both.

On Preview: I'm not at all scared about trying something new, and don't at all disagree that there are huge gaps in education based on income and race. I used to tutor inner-city third graders in reading. The gap is huge. If this program were instituted at a school like the one where I used to tutor, I think it might do great things. My questioning of the program was not for schools like that, where almost to a kid they are poor, and minority, and probably mostly from single parent households, and probably mostly on welfare. I was questioning it from the position of the schools where I went, where we graduated 100 kids from a high school class, and we were 50% white, 50% minority, 50% middle class, 40% poor, and 10% rich. Introducing it in such a school, I posit, raises a whole lot of other question and issues.

I'm sorry if I'm being unclear here. I just want to say once more: I think we need to try everything we can, including, especially, new and creative things, to help educate children, and to help them succeed in the world. Because that's the right thing to do - from a moral perspective and an economic perspective. This included. And maybe some of the versions of this I suggested above. And anything else that maybe, might, possibly work. And I think interesting conversation and debate and questions about those things can only lead to more new ideas to try. And try and try and try until something works and this terribly broken system built on differences that people can't control and prejudices they can gets fixed.
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:00 PM on April 22, 2008


How about this.

A tax incentive for families making under $40K per year. If your kid gets an A it's worth a $50 tax deduction (a B is $25).
posted by tkchrist at 3:23 PM on April 22, 2008


My questioning of the program was not for schools like that, where almost to a kid they are poor, and minority, and probably mostly from single parent households, and probably mostly on welfare. I was questioning it from the position of the schools where I went, where we graduated 100 kids from a high school class, and we were 50% white, 50% minority, 50% middle class, 40% poor, and 10% rich. Introducing it in such a school, I posit, raises a whole lot of other question and issues.

Yeah, but talking about introducing it in your school is moot. It's not being introduced there. The middle school in question:

Some stats
More Stats

The high school in question:

Some Stats

More Stats
posted by 23skidoo at 3:28 PM on April 22, 2008


Oh, shoot. Sorry dpx.mfx, sorry Inspector.Gadget: got you mixed up.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:33 PM on April 22, 2008


Maybe the answer to the problem above is that you only provide this program in a school full of mostly underachieving, lower class kids.

Perhaps Dilbert has conditioned me into a certain way of thinking, but on reading this, my first thought was: if you're paying me to be an underachiever, what is my incentive to improve? If I'm an overachiever, what message are you sending me by not rewarding my efforts? And if these programs are concentrated on schools that are "full of mostly" underachievers, don't the good achievers pose a financial risk to the underachievers, if they raise the school out of its "mostly underachiever" status?

Social organizations will adapt to take advantage of whatever conditions are established. Don't assume that these "underachievers" are too dumb to game the system to their profit.
posted by SPrintF at 4:29 PM on April 22, 2008


You know, I've been a huge geek since birth — one of those kids who actually liked doing homework. I'm working on my Ph.D. now, and (weirdly, masochistically) enjoying it.

But lemme tell you, no matter how much you love learning, eight hours a day of school is a fucking drag. High school is a fucking drag. Even the good teachers were unbearable half the time, and half the teachers weren't any good. And on top of that, you've got all the social bullshit, the hormones, the indoor confinement, the lack of privacy... I would skip class to go to the university library close by, where I could get some real thinking done. Talking to other geeks, I get the impression they had the same experience — that they love learning in spite of primary school, and not because of it.

What kept me in school was money. I got an allowance, I could use my parents car (and drain their gas tank) for free, and I didn't have to wait tables or bag groceries to keep it that way. I would have dropped out in a heartbeat if it wouldn't have meant losing those privileges.

So I'm just not buying it that getting paid for school will stifle kids' love of learning. I stayed in school to get paid, and I turned out fine.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:39 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


In Australia the government pays you to study from age 16, an allowance means-tested against your family or personal (if deemed independent according to certain criteria) income. The argument in this thread seems insane to me - I left home at 15, then starting at 18 supported myself through uni by working and the govt allowances, my uni fees and expenses were tax-deductible (and thus didn't cost me a cent) and the thought of not being able to afford it never entered my mind. I might not have had the chance in the US, and it sounds like many others won't. Insane.

This program sounds like a great idea. There should be more of it.
posted by goo at 4:45 PM on April 22, 2008


Like many Americans, I only expend effort in pursuit of money or sex, and since the school wasn't about to offer the latter, I say offering the former is a fine idea.

(the only goddam reason to go to school is so you can get a diploma to get a job anyway)
posted by jonmc at 5:08 PM on April 22, 2008


God, can some of you pollyannas wait until the goddamned study has run its course to declare that it's a failure? Instead, there's an ever-widening spiral of hypotheticals all designed to show that the kids will game the system, the middle schoolers won't value college (or will go when they shouldn't), and anyway, learning gratis learning is best so there. I mean, fuck, you do know how studies work, right? That you get the data when they're done, and that no matter what your fucking idiotic objections are they have to be saved for critiquing the results. Wait until you see the outcome before decrying all incentives as perverse.

And regarding treating school as a job? God, I wish. I had to have a job from sophomore year of high school on, and it's never been easy to balance the priorities. Noting my cohort, that was really a pretty big predictor of academic success later on. But hey, this study doesn't address that, so it's kind of irrelevant. Just like 90% of the bullshit objections above.
posted by klangklangston at 6:22 PM on April 22, 2008


We may try and throw off the shackles of social and economic darwinism; but we will not succeed, surely.
posted by oxford blue at 8:48 PM on April 22, 2008


Christ on a cracker. Here in Japan there's an entire industry of afterschool cram schools, and far from being paid, the students (or rather their parents) fork over plenty of yen for tuition.
posted by zardoz at 9:34 PM on April 22, 2008


Christ on a cracker. Here in Japan there's an entire industry of afterschool cram schools, and far from being paid, the students (or rather their parents) fork over plenty of yen for tuition.

Yup. A year or so back, I caught a US vs Japan game in the little league world series. In addition to all the expected gameplay stats, they'd thrown in a handful of biographic details, presumably to help the audience form some emotional interest in otherwise unknown players.

As I remember, Japanese players were defined by their "favorite subject" in school; in contrast, the American kids were defined by such values as "favorite movie" and "favorite actor."

We won the baseball game, as expected.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:53 PM on April 22, 2008


Here in Japan there's an entire industry of afterschool cram schools, and far from being paid, the students (or rather their parents) fork over plenty of yen for tuition.

Even the impoverished minority students in underfunded inner-city Japanese schools? Wow. How do the parents in Japanese communities where 25% of the families live below the poverty line and incarceration rates of males aged 20-34 exceed 10% manage that?
posted by mr_roboto at 9:37 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't see the problem with this myself. As people have said, privileged kids already get rewards for good grades, even if it's just in the form of accolades and a generally good relationship with the parents. Underprivileged kids will often simply not have this option. Getting A's for some kids will be meaningless - there are bigger more immediate issues going on - the rent, someone's health, abuse, who knows what - and whether they get good grades or not won't get any attention.

For the rich kid, getting good grades does not necessarily mean they "love learning" - it means they love the feeling of succeeding, and there are plenty of times when they'll memorize whatever crap the teacher tells them to memorize in order to get the right grades. I have always loved learning and I disliked high school (and I went to a good private high school with at least some decent teachers) for how much of it seemed mechanical... also anyone rebellious or who has trouble with authority may love learning & dislike being taught.

But of course there's a lot that's useful, and what you have to understand about high school / most of college is that it really isn't Plato's academy or something, but a basic guide to how to succeed in the modern world. Learn this stuff, but mostly, follow these directions, keep track of multiple levels of information at once, remember serious amounts of data, be capable of working out problems, be capable of breaking down something complicated... No one is ultimately going to care if you have really read, say, As I Lay Dying, but writing a paper about it is as much about showing that you can compare and contrast, that you can consider multiple possibilities, that you can conceptualize things, etc.

Sure, some people will go on to grad school because they honestly love thinking about ideas for their own sake, or reading shakespeare just as shakespeare - but most people who go to college go on to work in an office somewhere where their having been able to write that essay isn't obviously a prerequisite, and yet the office only takes college grads... Because those essays exhibit skills, levels of thinking and contextualizing that we take for granted once we have them, but that we are certainly not born with.

It is absolutely worth spending money to get kids to learn how to think more clearly and consistently, so that they can make better choices and become more successful people. Should their parents be doing it? That's what I'd have thought Newt Gingrich would be saying, but instead it's his peeps who are funding the program... funny.
posted by mdn at 5:29 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


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