Money, money, money
For at least one child in DC, the student pay system is working. It's helping to close the achievement gap. Hooray to Roland Fryer and the system he created to pay students $50 for every A earned. (Check out The Colbert Report's interview with the founding economist of the program.)
This child was one of those solid-D, maybe-C students. One of the sweet ones in middle school who didn't cause a ruckus in class, but who straggled to class and needed four reminders to pull out a pencil and follow along with the guided reading notes. He has a learning disability, but the work was modified enough and in rare times of motivation, he had shown he could do it well. The problem was that motivation.
But over the past two months, all that has changed, his teacher told me. He's coming in for extra help, he just needs a quick reminder to stay on task, and he eagerly awaits their weekly reading quiz. He even admitted to studying really, really hard for it. Which would explain that 89% that he received on the figurative language analysis quiz. What changed him around? The student-pay system implemented this year in Washington, DC.
And you know what else changed him around? A really amazing teacher who teaches standards-aligned material that is rigorous, based in literature and uses effective guided notes and assessment practices. I'm typically a skeptic when it comes to fancy systems that seem to be grounded in something so innovative that it seems terribly far removed from actual learning and achievement in the classroom. I'm especially skeptical when the quality and rigor of teacher instruction isn't a major component of the system. I'm more convinced that the student pay system can motivate some kids to study harder-- but what are we doing to guarantee that what they're studying is the right thing, or that they're being taught it at all? Oh right. That's called teacher merit pay.