Bribing students to learn

We Shouldn’t Pay Kids To Learn writes Diane Ravitch in Forbes. In India, Korea and Japan, parents pay for after-school classes and cram schools to get their children into the best colleges.

In the U.S., by contrast, school districts and philanthropists are embarking on ever-more elaborate efforts to persuade students to care about school and to learn basic skills.

New York City is offering small theme high schools to pique students’ interests.

The newest proposal is the Game High School, where students will play videogames that teach them the skills they need. School will, supposedly, be fun and games, instead of a series of daunting challenges with some occasional drudgery thrown in for good measure.

If school can’t be made fun, perhaps it can be made lucrative.  Educators in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles are experimenting with paying students to show up, study and raise their test scores.

Interesting, isn’t it, that while students in other countries are paying $1,500 a year for the chance to learn more, many American students will be paid that same amount just to do what they ought to be doing in their own self-interest?

Does the future belong to those who struggle to better themselves, make sacrifices to do so and work hard? Or to those who must be cajoled and bribed to learn anything at all?

Many middle-class U.S. parents pay for after-school enrichment, tutoring and SAT classes to give their kids an edge. We have “education parents” here. But not enough of them. And we’re addicted to the idea that education should be fun and easy.

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  1. Interesting, isn’t it, that while students in other countries are paying $1,500 a year for the chance to learn more, many American students will be paid that same amount just to do what they ought to be doing in their own self-interest?

    Perhaps ineffective and illogical instruction prevent the kids from seeing that it is in their own best interest. Kids are naturally curious, and effective, coherent instruction that capitalizes on this fact can produce kids who work hard to learn.

  2. “Kids are naturally curious, and effective, coherent instruction that capitalizes on this fact can produce kids who work hard to learn.”

    I doubt that that explains the discrepancy between the other countries mentioned and the US. I can’t speak for India and Japan, but I wouldn’t exactly say that Korea is known for its “effective, coherent instruction.” At the very least, it’s not something that drives students to learn. The educational system is actually pretty dreary. What drives these students is societal and parental pressure. My parents came to America from Korea because they thought the education here would be better. Less of that crazy pressure.

    I don’t think we need to adopt the ways of India, Japan, and Korea exactly. I mean, there has to be a happy medium between not caring at all about school and worrying about getting hit for anything less than an A. I wish people would stop looking to Asian countries as some model of student achievement. Yeah, the numbers are impressive. But there’s a reason why the student suicide rate (in Korea, at least) is distressingly high.

  3. I don’t know about the different cultures.

    But I do know that growing up, my parents taught me (and let me learn for myself) that sometimes something that is hard, that takes a lot of work, is really worth doing, because of the sense of accomplishment you get at the end. I took challenging coursework in school because I kind of got hooked on the idea of being able to take on and successfully complete challenges.

    I don’t know exactly how to instill this idea in kids; maybe it’s something that has to be promoted from an early age. (Both my parents were college profs).

    I will say though that when I was in junior high, some of my friends’ parents did pay them for every A, and I admit feeling kind of rooked…here I could have been making an easy $5 (or in some cases, $10) for something I wanted to do any way.

    I guess I got the last laugh, though. I now work at a job where I get paid to do what I’d like to do anyway. And paid quite well, in fact.

  4. Me –

    The Asian countries mentioned do have effective ways of using societal pressure to make kids learn *a lot*, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

    What I’m talking about is the awe-inspiring ability of modern American education to rob kids of the will to learn the most basic things, like elementary reading and arithmetic. The whole problem is this hare-brained notion that creativity is incompatible with rigorous, disciplined instruction. So, we toss out rigorous instruction in favor of a “better way”.

    When kids, especially poor kids without the benefit of educated parents, encounter this “better way”, they get lost in the tidal wave of information thrown at them in the belief that they’ll be able to construct an understanding out of it. When tested on what they’re supposed to have learned, they fail. And they blame themselves for that failure. They tell themselves they’re “not smart”. They hate school. And pretty soon, “learning” becomes a tainted concept in their minds.

    Our schools should make sure that students that pass through their classrooms gain enough knowledge about the world that they can learn on their own and operate in society. Reading, writing, standard arithmetic, basic logic, the scientific method, the basics of art and music, and some common sense life skills would allow students a chance at making a future for themselves.

    While this won’t produce the educational achievements that India, Japan, and Korea have, I’m fine with that. Speaking from my own experience, the societal pressures the Japanese use to get their students to achieve can also be twisted in much worse directions, and I don’t favor replicating them here.

  5. tim-10-ber says:

    Do you ever wonder where this country went wrong? Look no further than public education. It has fully succeeded in dumbing down the country, making everyone think they were entitled to something without earning it, etc. Public education has done its job —

    before the era of forced schooling people in this country did amazing things at young ages…not any more —

    thanks public education —

  6. Do you people know what those Koreans are paying for? Hours and hours of soulsucking memorization. I’m dead serious. They pay for 40 hours a week in SAT classes so that the kids can fake a 2400 SAT score and the company gets letters from Harvard begging them not to offer their services any more because they take these kids and they can’t speak English.

    Koreans aren’t paying for enlightenment and enrichment through education. They’re paying for their kid to compete madly to be one of a dozen identical Koreans who gets picked by an Ivy. Nothing more, nothing less. The comparison only makes Ravitch look ignorant. The Koreans are competing madly for money. Thye’ve just got the ability to live for a longer window than the average urban minority looking for cash.

  7. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    Education should always be fun and exciting?

    Oh, believe me, I have had that beat out of me LONG ago. Ask ANY history major if they like historiography and/or think it is fun (which at a point is necessary for them to have a grasp of). If ANY of them say “yes”, they are either lying or just plain masochistic.

  8. Homeschooling Granny says:

    “We have ‘education parents’ here. But not enough of them. And we’re addicted to the idea that education should be fun and easy.”

    So how do we get more ‘education parents’, parents who create a home environment that impresses on children that education is important– not necessarily fun or entertaining but important and worthwhile? Parents love their kids and hope for the best for them but many don’t know how to help their children learn. And they’ve been encouraged by ‘experts’ leave education to the experts. It hasn’t worked and it won’t.

    There is a piece of old research out there somewhere showing that parents can make a significant difference and educators can help them do it. In this research:

    “Pairs of children with comparable I.Q.s and environments were selected in two different areas. The parents in one area were not notified of the experiment. The parents in the experimental area were asked to come to the school one hour each month for consultation with the teachers. At that time the teachers outlined the course of study for the ensuing month and asked the parents to encourage the children to study, to discuss their assignments with them, but not to do any of the work for them. . . Discussion of the lessons in history, geography, and science can make lively dinner conversation.
    In the experimental group the active interest of parents stimulated the children to greater effort.
    “At the end of the term identical tests were given the two groups. The children in the experimental group showed approximately twenty per cent increase in achievement over the children in the group whose parents were not asked to cooperate.” –Lewis Alderman, educator, 1872-1965

    Alderman also wrote: “This is the age of experts and the tendency on the part of some parents is to let the experts take over the entire education of their children. . . While teachers do the actual instructing it is the parents’ job to prepare their children to receive instruction. Children get their ideas of what is important or unimportant and of what is right or wrong from their parents. If parents show an active interest in their children’s school, and if they cooperate with their children’s teacher, the children will know that school is important.”

    As difficult as it may be to reach some parents and teach them how to value and enhance their children’s education, experience, both here and in other countries, shows that parents make the difference.

    Another illustration of the importance of parents is the surprising success of homeschooling where it is crystal clear to the children that their parents find them and their education important.

  9. I read Ravitch’s article and I agree with her. But I want to focus on her third paragraph, in which she says,

    “Traditionally, educators have tried to awaken intrinsic motivation in students, to engage them in the joy of learning for its own sake and, if that fails, to convince them that getting a good education is crucial to their future success.”

    I don’t mean to be nit picking, but I think there is much more to motivation than intrinsic motivation and/or future success. Intrinsic motivation should always be a goal of teachers, and sometimes we actually succeed in that. At the other end of this continuum, I think it is good that students be occasionally reminded that there really is a future in store for them, and they ought to prepare for it. But I think those two ideas, intrinsic motivation and future success, can be characterized the left and right 10% of a continuum, and I think we are not very good at analyzing that 80% in the middle. That middle 80% of this motivation continuum includes a lot of things. It includes making skillful use of the tools of discipline provided by the school. It includes being an effective communicator so that subject matter makes sense. It includes establishing a healthy social climate, with values and expectations that bring out the best in everyone involved. It includes knowing how to make productive use of the students’ time and efforts so that they derive satisfaction of accomplishment from what they do. It includes knowing how to work with parents, administrators, and the community at large. It probably includes some other things I have not thought of yet.

    Just as a good cook knows how to make a good combination of various ingredients, good teachers, I believe, know how to make a good combination of the various ingredients that are in this middle 80% of the motivation continuum. But, and this is important, good teachers are not, in my opinion at least, very good at explaining what they do. They just do it. Therefore we take it for granted. But surely we shouldn’t.

    It seems to me that paying students with money for achievement has the possibility of being counterproductive. It has to affect that middle 80% of the motivation continuum. I think the general negativity many of us feel for the idea is evidence that we expect the downside to predominate.

  10. Kids learn in school for reasons beside the ones mentioned

    to impress their teacher
    to keep up with their peers
    to impress their peers
    for some, they have a gift and they enjoy using it

    There are some who do badly in school for twisted versions of the same reasons

    they hate their teacher
    to keep up with their peers
    to impress their peers
    for some, they have a gift for disruption and they enjoy using it

    I worry that paying students to do well will raise cheating to a level we have not yet seen. If it is easier to cheat for money than it is to learn for money cheating will increase.

  11. Educators in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles are experimenting with paying students to show up, study and raise their test scores.

    Well let’s see, paying teachers to show up and study works – and EdD being widely recognized as a substitute for greater skills – so why shouldn’t it work for students?

    Of course teachers aren’t paid to raise test scores so those educators in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are going out on a limb with the idea that paying kids might motivate them to raise test scores. No precedent for the idea in public education.

    Still, if you’re going to experiment there is a lot of precedent in education for experimenting on kids. The educational landscape’s littered with the burned-out hulks of previously well thought-of ideas.

    What’s the worst thing that could happen? That it turns out kids are motivated by money? Well yeah, that would be pretty bad. Might set a bad precedent.

  12. Given that schools are publicly funded I think we’re already paying students to go to school. Giving money to students/parents to spend as they see fit seems like a way to start experimenting with vouchers. I think of it that way as I’m pre-disposed to believe that any effective voucher program has to provide incentives to parents/students to find value for the dollar and a good way to do that is let them keep any unspent money.

    Its not clear exactly how much money is at stake here, but it seems like it could go to a maximum of $1,500 per student. In CA that’s about 10% of average expenditure per student. That seems like a reasonable amount to start experimenting with vouchers. If this program works out perhaps we’ll start seeing parents/students getting the full amount. Oh well, one can always dream 🙂