Atlanta Experiments with Student Pay, Too

Published April 1, 2008

Two suburban Atlanta schools are testing a program, Learn and Earn, similar to Baltimore’s pay-incentive model. The program pays 40 students $8 an hour, for up for four hours per week, to take part in after-school math and science sessions.

Instead of using tax dollars like the Baltimore incentive plan, the program is privately funded by the Learning Makes a Difference Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit founded by Jackie Gingrich Cushman and Kathy Gingrich Lubbers, daughters of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Cushman says the program makes perfect sense.

“Learn and Earn [is] an innovative learning program that replicates what many parents have successfully done for years–providing a monetary incentive for academic performance,” Cushman wrote in a statement on the organization’s Web site. “Our society routinely pays sports, hip-hop, and Hollywood stars millions of dollars per year. Isn’t academic success at least as worthy of reward?”

Short-Term Success

Critics say programs such as Learn and Earn are not in students’ best interests.

“Schools are desperate to boost test scores because of the unreasonable requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act and, in some states, the state assessment programs,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

“They are looking for ways to raise test scores by hook or by crook,” Schaeffer continued. “This, in the short term, will have the potential to raise the scores of the toughest-to-reach students, but it will only be for the short term.”

The students enrolled in the program have performed below average (C- or worse) in math and science. The participating eighth and 11th graders can earn bonuses if they get at least a B average in both math and science and pass the state exam in those subjects. Eighth graders who merit bonuses will get $75 apiece, and high school juniors will get $125 apiece.

Evaluating the Problem

The program, launched in late January, is scheduled for evaluation after its 15-week trial period ends in mid-May. Cushman wrote, “The goal of the study is to provide the students with incentive and supports, thereby helping them improve their math and science abilities.”

Not everyone is sold on the potential of success for programs such as Learn and Earn.

“They will end up frustrated with this just as they have with every other silver bullet solution to the complicated issues surrounding educating these hard-to-reach students,” said Schaeffer. “None of these programs will work.

“You can use a medical analogy for this situation,” Schaeffer continued. “You need a system that does a better diagnosis of the patient and prescribes a remedy that is customized for the particular problems they are presenting. You have to find out why these students are not performing, and then figure out how to get them over the bar. You can’t just try to get them to jump higher.”

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.