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FOR THE WEEK OF OCT. 20, 2008

Good grade rewards from schools: Bonus or bribe?

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"Knowledge is its own reward," teachers say. But now some educators use cash to motivate students. Districts around America dangle dollars as a lure to boost class attendance, encourage participation in afternoon tutoring and raise scores on statewide tests. Private gifts finance many of the incentives, which also include gift certificates, McDonald's meals and class pizza parties.

In at least a dozen states, students can expect more than just gratitude for high marks or low absences. Struggling high schoolers in Baltimore earn up to $110 in public money for raising assessment test scores. Students in Albuquerque, N.M., get $300 if they attend at least 90 percent of classes for the year. And near Atlanta, eighth and 11th graders who participate in a 15-week study program after school are paid $8 an hour.
In New York City, about 9,000 fourth- and seventh-graders in 58 schools are eligible to win up to $50 for boosting their scores on the citywide English and math tests - and teachers can receive a bonus of as much as $3,000 for notable improvements.

Turning school days into paydays draws criticism from those who compare the rewards to bribes and who say motivating with money sends the wrong message about students' responsibility to learn. "Once you introduce money to a situation, social norms get replaced by economic ones," business journalist Barbara Kiviat wrote in a Time magazine blog. "This is deeply problematic."

Principal says: "We're in competition with the streets. They can go out there and make $50 illegally any day of the week. We have to do something to compete with that." - Virginia Connelly, junior high principal in New York City

Critic says: "Why don't we invest in something that we know does work -- like reducing class size or extended learning time? I'd invest in tutoring before I'd invest in incentives." -- Pedro Noguera, New York University professor

Teen says: "This motivates us better. Everybody wants some money, and nobody wants to get left behind." - Adonis Flores, 13, Bronx, N.Y.

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2016
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