If you want someone to do something, you have to make it worth the struggle. This is the idea that steers our capitalistic society. So why not install this philosophy in younger generations by paying them for good grades? What if money is the only thing that works to keep our kids in school? This has yet to be seen, but in an attempt to lower the dropout rate, Representative Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) is proposing to use stimulus money for a pilot program in which ninth grade students at low-performing schools would be paid fifty dollars for receiving an A, thirty-five dollars for a B, and twenty dollars for a C on their report cards.
After hearing of a similar program in Chicago, Deshotel filed a bill requiring the help of community organizations to give additional influence to the student, and rewards based on performance.
“We believe that this cash incentive, working along with some mentoring program, may save some from dropping out,” Deshotel said. “We don’t know if it’s going to work. This program hasn’t started, and there are some programs that are just starting around the country so we don’t have any empirical evidence other than the assumption that incentives pay off.”
Incentives, of course, are nothing new. We give bonuses to teachers and business executives for exceptional performance. Although cash incentives for students are unchartered territory, educators have tried other motivational tactics before, such as gift certificates and days off from school for good grades. This could be just another tool.
“You say children are supposed to be self-motivated, children are supposed to do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do” Deshotel said. “That’s good and fine but there’s a whole segment of the population that may not have anyone in their immediate circle with a high school diploma, so when they hear things like study and you’ll be successful or good grades pay off, they’ve never seen any tangible evidence of that. Those are the people we’re trying to reach.”
So why just ninth grade students? Although statistics show that the high school dropout rate is highest in ninth grade when students transition to high school, Superintendent Jonny Brown of Port Arthur School District says he would like to see the program reach all grade levels. With fifteen schools in his area—three of which failed the national No Child Left Behind rating, five which failed the state rating and seven that passed—Brown is afraid that students doing well will sink to a lower level of performance just to get the money. But if applied to all schools, it would create a learning environment that would strengthen the concept of education.
“It’s a very positive incentive program to help students prepare for college, and to get them thinking that the college path is something they can achieve,” Brown said. “A lot of kids don’t think about college because they know they can’t pay for it, but this ties short-term success to long-term plans for college.”
Perhaps desperate times call for desperate measures, and cash incentives will provide a different kind of value to education. Deshotel seems to think so.
“We believe that different things motivate different people, some are self-motivated, some are motivated by titles, some are motivated by money, and some by achievement. And you have to find what motivates various kids to get them to stay in school.”