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Should Parents Get Money for Helping their Kids Learn?

student achievementA controversial plan in one of the nation’s school districts will pay parents for helping their kids succeed in school.

At 25 low-ranking Houston Independent School District (ISD) schools , fifth-grade students will get paid several hundred dollars this year for passing math tests. What’s more unusual is that their parents will get paid too, according to The Houston Chronicle.

The $1.5 million program, funded by the Dallas-based Liemandt Foundation, was approved yesterday by the Houston school board. Already, there has been an outcry among some in the larger Houston community who are outraged that parents are getting paid for something they should do for free.

This experiment is thought to be “the first of its kind to offer incentives to parents and students,” according to The Houston Chronicle. If students pass short math tests, they can earn up to $440. Their parents can earn the same amount, as well an additional $180 for attending parent-teacher conferences

“In many cases, where we have parents who are working hard and are barely making ends meet – 80 percent of our kids are on free- and reduced-lunch – why shouldn’t we help them in order to be more involved?” asked Chuck Morris, HISD’s chief academic officer.

The Education Innovation Laboratory (EIL) at Harvard University will be studying the experiment. Led by economics professor Roland Fryer, the EIL has conducted other studies on similar student incentives in Chicago, Dallas, New York City and Washington, D.C. But this is the first study of parent incentives.

The results of the other programs were mixed, although there was some improved student performance in Dallas and Washington.

In the Dallas program, second-graders were paid $2 per book they read.  Fryer’s study found that the students who were promised money improved their reading comprehension and language skills more than those who hadn’t been offered with money. But the true results won’t be clear for many years when researchers can determine whether the incentives have had an impact on longterm learning and high school graduation rates.

Other past studies have shown that once incentives stop, students showed even less interest in their tasks than those students who had never received a reward.

In his 1993 book “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes,” Alfie Kohn expresses concerns that rewards for achievement don’t ultimately affect children’s desire to learn. My gut reaction is that Kohn was right and this plan won’t work in the longterm. On the other hand, perhaps desperate times call for desperate measures.

What do you think? Is this an absurd proposal or is it worth a shot?

photo: flickr/superkimbo in BKK

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