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January 24, 2008

"Learn & Earn": Baltimore's not alone

As Baltimore prepares to pay struggling high school students for improved test scores, a Georgia school district this week announced an initiative to give cash to a group of kids for attending after-school tutoring in math and science. Check out this entry on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's education blog. Fulton County's "Learn & Earn" program made headlines on CNN yesterday. It was conceived by Newt Gingrich, of all people.

Today's coverage of the Baltimore controversy is here and here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:10 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Trends


Pay for ATTENDANCE is a recipe for disaster. Pay for attendance followed by improvement instead.

I had a job in high school. If they had paid me to go to after-school tutoring, I might have been able to attend.
Just a thought.

For decades, Baltimore City schools have tried to implement numerous conventional programs to boost student achievement. To date, none of them have produced acceptable results.

I am excited that BCPSS has chosen a leader who is willing to think outside of convention, and motivate kids to produce results. Many of you have said that high performing students would then intentionally fail, so they can get in on the cash rewards, however I would hope that we have more trust and faith in our students.

Dr. Alonso should not bend to the political pressure from City Hall, instead Baltimore should learn to step outside of the comfort zone from time to time, for the sake of progress and institutional reform.

So let me get this right. This proposal is to pay students to put forth necessary effort to pass required tests. Am I the only person who doesn't get this proposal?

Maybe I am a bit old fashioned, but paying students to do well seems a bit off to me. While we're at it why not consider paying teachers for each student they prepare who passes these exams on merit? Or, maybe we should just chuck the entire assessment program and let schools go back to creating programs that simply encourages learning for the sheer joy of learning.

Mike: I too hope that Dr. Alonso and the board allows for new and interesting ideas since clearly what has been tried has not worked.

Wasserman: If the learning process, from grade k - 12 were solely the responsibility of the student than I would agree with you that paying students to "do what they should be doing anyway" would seem a bit crazy, but this isn't the way things work. school's have been failing these (and many other) students for years. Look at 8th grade MSA scores for math - city average is around 25%. Is it any wonder that kids in high school can't pass the HSA? The HSA issue is simply the culmination of this failure with real consequences - no diploma. Here of course, only the student is punished, not the system, principals, teachers, parents, community leaders, past CEO's and so on, all of whom have contributed far more to the failure than the kids ever could have. One thinks of attendance as simply slack kids or sometimes slack parents. If only it were that easy. When schools care about kids and are places that value parents and meet the needs of those they serve, kids have higher attendance. In a school of 900, or 2000 where no one knows who you are or takes notice when you are not there, what effort have the ADULTS in charge taken to keep kids engaged. And as for paying teachers extra when they get students to achieve despite the challenges, I'll take the money!

The DisconnectA society that is caught up in material culture and measures success in terms (mostly) of individualism and cold hard cash.
The RealityAn urban culture of low expectations trapped in a cycle of violence and poverty that is disillusioned and has not materially participated in the "American Dream".
Are we paying the $110 (or whatever amount) to make us feel better? I don't like a lot of the messages the incentive makes, but I struggle to crack the barrier with motivating each of my students: "work hard, think hard, study, and it will pay off" is an American Mantra, but they are not getting this message. Too few role models personally involved in their lives-- and teachers are miserably poor (though frequently happy); I think we're fooling ourselves and them. Maybe we can trick them temporarily into success? As someone who teaches an HSA subject, I don't necessarily believe that $110 will be the cure for so many students who do not come to school, do not study, do not have the basic foundation to understand the test questions, cannot construct the written responses and do not know the content. This is the dirty little secret, that people are uncomfortable with, that no matter what, some kids will not pass. What we should be spending these millions on is not trying to get kids pass tests that may be irrelevant, but working to create more vibrant job/vocational programs. No every kid will go to college, nor will they work in the BioTech corridor. While so many jobs are moving this way, there still will be a need for plumbers, locksmiths, etc.

Another question: The System is going to spend this 5 plus million to try and get kids to pass with some really interesting ideas which are going to be paid for no matter their impact. This one part of the plan will only get funded if it works. Again I ask, where is the down side? How many millions will we spend without this type of guarantee? I have seen so many millions spent without seeing any impact. Here we can see the impact before we spend the money.

Here's a typical member of the 5000 Club:

Student has missed 13 days so far this year, most of them coming from second quarter.
Student does not do homework and does poorly on tests and other classroom measurements. Because 50 is the lowest score they can get, that's what I give (though real score is much lower).
Student is failing my HSA course with a Semester grade in the 50's. Student had lowest exam score in my class.
Based on my professional evaluation, student will most likely fail HSA in government.
Failed Algebra HSA class last year. Failed two classes last year, rest in 60's. Did not make up in summer school or yet in "Twilight". Student is still classed as a 9th grader.
Is currently failing all courses through first semester with grades all lower than 60%.
Student is 18 years old. Held back (I calculate) three times. Looking back at years in the past, student absent some years 45-60 times. So, failing 10th grade subject courses, student will be at least 21 years old when a senior.
Student is reading and writing on a 4th grade level. Cognition and skills are very weak.
Parent meeting was a joke. Mother alternated between defending and attacking student, teacher or administration. Parent is (my opinion) probably a victim of the same problems in the system. No real excuses.
Student does not meet teacher for missing work or help. Does not take responsibility.

$110 will not help this student, but has been pointed out by numerous other posters, maybe something will help? Either way we're staring at thousands of dollars of impact for this student alone. How about the children of this student? Welfare, poverty, cycles of unemployment and under-insured.

So, why can't we do a better job of identifying these problems in the future and fixing them. To get to high school with this sort of level of prep is really, as Dr. Alonso has said, a civil rights issue.

But we also need to realistically identify the really problematic parenting that would allow so much absenteeism. I've already raised my children. I cannot raise every one else's!

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