Monday, May 22, 2006

Harlem's Children Get Paid

CBS 60 minutes reported last week on Harlem's Children (mp3) and Geoffrey Canada's efforts to create a "Children's Zone" including about 6o blocks in Harlem. Geoffrey Canada's charter school, The Promise Academy is the flagship of Canada's Children's Zone. Serious funding, approximately $16,000 a student; a 6 to 1 student faculty ratio; extended hours and school year; and health care characterize the charter school. A lottery with odds that diminish with the increasing success of the school also marks the school.

Most notable about Canada's charter school according to the 60 Minutes'report are incentives for students. The Promise Academy model supports academic performance goals and attendance goals with cash disbursements to its students--up to $150 a month for high schoolers. And green Andrew Jacksons await elementary students with perfect attendance. Canada's methods are not unique. KIPP schools (Knowledge is Power Program) also use rewards and incentives to promote a culture of commitment among their students.

And what is so strange about incentivizing school anyway? How many things worth doing in life don't come with rewards? We all work for a reward in a paycheck; some of us are lucky enough to work for more than just a monetary reward: pride, a sense of contribution, and personal betterment come with some of the best jobs. These rewards are similar to the rewards of doing well in school. We tell children all the time that education is its own reward. But in a market economy, where capitalism is the ruling Ism, we might misrepresent the way this country works by not providing a tangible incentive to these students. There is probably a worthwhile and testable (quasi-experimental) thesis in there someplace. Incentives are not a perversion of schooling. And to a child faced with the choice between a thousand dollars a month from dealing and no money from school versus a thousand dollars a month from dealing and a much safer $150 a month from going to school the school incentive might actually make a difference. I'd like to see more data on this. I'm open to the idea. I'm not convinced, but I am open to possibilities school incentives might present.


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