All about the Benjamins?
April 30, 2008
Here's more on paying students for performance, this time in Baltimore.
We've already sparred over this topic on the blog, and I tend to agree with Liam and most other opponents of this strategy that a) learning is deeply rewarding for its own sake and is degraded when treated as an article of commerce, and b) paying kids to learn may, in fact, give them an incentive not to learn. Economist Tyler Cowen talked about this second point in a recent interview:
[Take the example of] trying to get my stepdaughter to do the dishes more often. The normal model of the family is children contribute something, but once you start paying them to do the dishes they treat it like a marketplace. It's like, "Yeah, I can do the dishes, get the money, or not do the dishes, not get the money. Eh, it's not worth it." The sense of obligation goes away. It's just like a set of contracts, you're not a parent anymore, you're ceding authority.
On the other hand, the Petrillians have a point in saying that, for kids who show little hope of ever passing remedial math and reading classes, how could trying this hurt?
I think the lesson here is that when a debate like this over the wisdom of a particular pedagogical approach reaches a stalemate, it's time to let schools and districts experiment. The greatest innovations in every sector come not from heated, theory-driven arguments that lead up to a grand eureka moment, but from experiment after experiment, failure after failure, until the best idea proves its viability. Most public school systems, unfortunately, are still micromanaged far too closely to allow such experiments to occur.