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Should Parents Get Money for Helping their Kids Learn?

By paulabernstein |

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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About paulabernstein

paulabernstein

paulabernstein

Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer and social media manager with a background in entertainment journalism. She is also the co-author of Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

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0 thoughts on “Should Parents Get Money for Helping their Kids Learn?

  1. goddess says:

    How on earth are those schools funded? In Ohio, ours are funded, in large part, by our local taxes. In fact, 61% of my local property tax goes to our local school district. On top of that, we pay fees (eliminated for those who fall under certain income, so we subsidize THOSE as well).
    Were they to institute this sort of program, I would be LIVID. I do not *pay for grades* in my home. Our children are EXPECTED to perform to the best of their ability. It is their JOB to do so. I’ll be darned if I am going to pay for another persons’s kid to do what is their job to do as a kid.
    What has happened to personal accountability?

  2. paulabernstein says:

    goddess, this program is funded privately. I agree with you that ideally, we shouldn’t have to pay kids or children to do what is expected of them. But, perhaps this is a worthwile experiment. It will be interesting to see what the researchers conclude.

  3. bob says:

    I’m normally in favor of creativity and experimentation, but this seems foolish, a little like introducing snakes to an ecosystem in order to control an influx of rats that we aren’t willing to stem. Our system, society, is fundamentally flawed such that the children of poor people have major educational disadvantages. But rather than address the systematic problems, we find convoluted ways to address the symptoms alone, causing additional problems in the process (in this case, decreased motivation when the incentive is withdrawn, the sense of injustice that goddess expresses, etc.).

  4. goddess says:

    I did go back and re-read, and see that now. Thanks, Paula.
    Well, it’s aprivate foundation and they can use their money accordingly. I think I’d pull my kids out of that school system and take their money per head out of it as well. I wouldn’t pretend to support such a crock of BS.

  5. paulabernstein says:

    You raise a good point, goddess. In fact, parents can opt out of this experiment if they want to.

  6. Sara says:

    If it helps change attitudes twards education (which is the real problem in low income areas, parents and student’s often don’t care or see the point in education) then it’ll work

  7. goddess says:

    How about truth? You screw off at school and don’t get a good education, life is going to suck? Better than, “aw come on poor widdle bumpkins- we’ll PAY you to do what you should have been doing all along!” Riiiight. What happens when the fund goes dry? Attitudes sure WILL change- and NOT for the better either.

  8. goddess says:

    I want a job where my employer gives ME a bonus fr screwing off all day ;-P The rest of the hard-working schmucks can just continue to work for their regular wage.

  9. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    This experiment already failed in NYC. It made a bit of money for a few disadvantaged families that already put a priority on education, but didn’t produce lasting results. I’m surprised that philanthropists still fund these programs given their mediocre performance overall.

  10. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Goddess, that job would be found on Wall Street.

  11. calicopie says:

    I’ve read a few stories about this sort of thing lately– paying family members for taking care of their sick and elderly relatives, paying parents for watching their kids, etc. My concern is that if we can’t expect people to care about their own family without cash incentives, how will we ever get them to buy into the larger social contract? I worry that we’re on the road to a cruel and selfish society.

  12. Manjari says:

    I think this is a terrible idea. Like Mistress_Scorpio pointed out, it doesn’t work. I just think it sends kids the wrong message entirely. Paying a kid $2 to read a book seems like a great way to convince them that reading is a chore. I also think that paying parents to pay attention to their children’s education is insulting. Also, even if parents can opt out of the experiment, their kids will know that their friends are getting paid.

  13. JBoogie says:

    While I agree that kids should be doing their school work and studying because of the simple value of an education, it’s hard to convince kids that algebra matters in the grand scheme of their life. I teach US History and it’s a struggle every day to teach kids that history is relevant to their lives today. We live in a society that is profit driven. If kids can finally get the message–if I work hard in school and learn something, I can get a good job (i.e. get paid well)–I think this program could have some value.

  14. Natasha says:

    We already have enough entitled idiots in college these days, passed not because they earned the grade, but because Mommy and Daddy made sure they got passed. This is just going to make things worse.

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