Inner-city schools in New York City, Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. are exploring an option that rewards students with cash or other prizes (i.e. prepaid cell phones or MP3 players) if they perform well on in-class assessments. Reported by The Washington Post, this pilot program seeks to be a model for last-ditch efforts to boost test scores in failing schools. The editorial board of The Miami Student believes that it is absolutely reprehensible to be offering students monetary incentives at this stage in their education for high test scores.
While seeking to reduce the gap between white and minority students, this appeal to materialism only reinforces negative social means and appeals to educational methods that do not support true growth over a student’s school career. Using these incentives to close the educational race gap seems to cheapen any progress that may occur, and would implicitly demonstrate that minority students may only respond well to cash prizes. It is a ludicrous sentiment, and one that is based upon the premise that these struggling students all have an equal educational base and are simply not trying-thus, only by providing incentives will they reach their potential.
However, this approach fails to address the real problems of these educational systems: systemic lack of funds and attention from teachers and parents. This board is left asking ourselves: what will happen if this incentive system is removed? Without an adequate support base, students may simply revert back to failing behavior because they have not truly learned how to be better students. This also put teachers in a bad situation because they may teach for a test, and we fear that cash rewards may place blinders upon a student’s educational experience. It reinforces the idea that earning an education is only a pathway for earning money-a dangerous thought for struggling students who may abandon interest in other “softer” fields because they do not see them as profitable alternatives.
The opposite perspective, however, is that these incentives can provide tangible benefits and may kickstart struggling students who already possess the ability but are not finding reasons to succeed. This study is, after all, focused entirely in extremely bad school districts-ones that may need this radical approach to stem the tide of educational failings. Also, while incentives does promote teaching only for tests, benchmarks such as in-class assessments are really the only way to observe progress over a larger scale. Furthermore, motives change from high school to college, thus while these monetary incentives may provide a necessary boost in order to get a struggling student through high school, a college environment provides other tangible incentives for success.
The funds for these programs should be re-invested in studies that could create better models to solve the problems of inner-city schools. Or by expanding existing initiatives-like spurring parental engagement in a child’s education and providing more support for after-school programs-there could be a greater level of student success. Monetary incentives do not teach students to take real responsibility for their education, nor do they seem to be anywhere near viable in the country’s current economic condition.