Thursday, March 6, 2008

Commision for Excellence - Students are Human Resources Too...

Declining standards of education have always been a cause of worry for educators and parents world over. In countries like India, the classrooms crammed with children and non-performing teachers is a regular feature (apart from teacher absenteeism in rural and remote areas). 'How to make the teachers perform?' is the question of the millennium for policy-makers. One simple to imagine way-out can be incentivising the teachers for good performance. If the passed students' percentage is above mark, then the teacher becomes eligible for bonus. In USA, the educators are playing with a new idea - kind of idea which seems simple enough only after you hear it. Why not incentivise the performing students? This is actually a natural corollary of bonuses for teachers. If my students are performing well and if it is due to them that I am getting bonus (after all even after a dedicated teacher, a spoilt child can spoil the spoils!), why not passing on the benefits? The issues involved will come to fore only as time passes, on this NYTimes piece about an innovation -
If students show marked improvement on state tests during the school year, each teacher at Public School 188 could receive a bonus of as much as $3,000.School districts nationwide have seized on the idea that a key to improving schools is to pay for performance, whether through bonuses for teachers and principals, or rewards like cash prizes for students. New York City, with the largest public school system in the country, is in the forefront of this movement, with more than 200 schools experimenting with one incentive or another. In more than a dozen schools, students, teachers and principals are all eligible for extra money, based on students’ performance on standardized tests.

Each of these schools has become a test to measure whether, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg posits, tangible cash rewards can turn a school around. Can money make academic success cool for students disdainful of achievement? Will teachers pressure one another to do better to get a schoolwide bonus?

So far, the city has handed out more than $500,000 to 5,237 students in 58 schools as rewards for taking several of the 10 standardized tests on the schedule for this school year. The schools, which had to choose to participate in the program, are all over the city.“I’m not saying I know this is going to fix everything,” said Roland G. Fryer, the Harvard economist who designed the student incentive program, “but I am saying it’s worth trying. What we need to try to do is start that spark.”Nationally, school districts have experimented with a range of approaches. Some are giving students gift certificates, McDonald’s meals and class pizza parties. Baltimore is planning to pay struggling students who raise their state test scores.

Critics of these efforts say that children should be inspired to learn for knowledge’s sake, not to earn money, and question whether prizes will ultimately lift achievement. Anticipating this kind of argument, New York City was careful to start the student experiment with private donations, not taxpayer money, avoiding some of the controversy that has followed the Baltimore program, which uses public money.
Next Question: Can Students Be Paid to Excel? - New York Times
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