Anything But Choice
When opponents of parental choice say that it won’t work, I’m always eager to hear what alternative reforms they have in mind. Sometimes they suggest paying students for good grades or test scores. The rewards could just be cash, but policymakers have thought up more creative ideas. For example, this article in the New York Times outlines Roland Fryer’s plan to reward New York students’ academic achievement with cell phones and free minutes:
“This is one of several student-motivation proposals that the department is considering,” said David Cantor, a spokesman for the city Education Department. He said that “this is a proposal that neither the mayor nor the chancellor has signed off on.”
The proposal is in line with the larger incentive program that Dr. Fryer is running, as well as with programs offering bonuses to teachers and principals based on student performance.
Last month, the city embraced a plan by a private foundation to reward students who pass Advanced Placement tests with thousands of dollars.
Even the Missouri NEA is in on the action. Here you can download certificates to give to "Champion Students" and "Champion Readers." And although the organization is opposed to merit pay, the page includes a link to a certificate for "Champion Teachers," too. Apparently, rewarding good teachers with fancy pieces of paper is OK, as long as the paper doesn’t happen to be U.S. currency.
Will these rewards motivate students to succeed? I think it depends on the reward. The cash sounds like it will be more effective than the certificates. However, anyone with experience teaching or tutoring knows that choice itself is often the most effective motivator. You can pay a kid to read a literature textbook, and he’ll read through it as quickly as possible to get the money. But if you tell him he can choose any book he wants, like the latest Harry Potter release, he’ll be absorbed in the book.
Instead of giving out cell phone minutes or frequent flier miles, we could just give families the choice of where their kids will go to school. But kids will probably receive a lot of certificates before that choice is available to everyone.