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Desperation Time In D.C.: School Is Money?

The school renovations aren't going so well, the teachers are resisting Chancellor Michelle Rhee's ambitious plan to undo decades-old seniority and tenure rules, and student performance remains persistently miserable.

Despite her great energy and stunning ability to push dramatic change through a historically resistant political structure, the District's schools chancellor is getting a little bit desperate. The evidence: Yesterday's announcement of a deeply cynical effort starting this fall to pay D.C. middle schoolers to attend school, behave decently and perform in the classroom.

Yes, pay them, as in cash money. Rhee, Mayor Adrian Fenty and Harvard University economist Roland Fryer, a 30-year-old wunderkind who has taken on some highly controversial topics in novel and fascinating ways, are teaming up on a pilot project that will be rolled out in 14 District middle schools. Kids who show up, follow the rules and meet academic goals will collect points that could earn them paychecks of as much as $100 every two weeks--per kid. The money--the city expects to spend $2.7 million the first year--will be deposited into bank accounts in each student's name.

No reasonable person expected Rhee to start producing better test scores in such a short time, and despite some rough spots, she's still very much enjoying a political honeymoon. So why would she and Fenty embrace a totally unproven, wildly speculative, and depressingly classist, bordering on racially condescending, tactic like "School Is Money?" (That's the name the D.C. school system first circulated for the program, but now it's being called "Capital Gains"--much smoother, much more corporate, but the first name is more revealing about the mindset behind this ghastly concept.)

(Whoa, hold it right there: You can't just drop in that bit about race and move on.

(Right. But how else to explain a program that assumes that underperforming, inner-city black students must be paid to attend and perform in school, while no one has ever suggested that such an approach is even worth discussing for more affluent, suburban, white children? And how else do you explain this bizarre comment from Professor Fryer, who came up with the pay-to-learn plan and has implemented versions of it in New York and Chicago?

("We have incentive programs in our suburbs," he said. "Kids get shiny red cars at graduation." Wow. I've never heard of that actually happening outside of a Hollywood teen flick, but I'm sure there must be some real parents who promise their precious ones a car for graduating from high school. Still, for a Harvard economist to offer that silly stereotype as justification for treating inner-city students as if they are incapable of being infected with a pure love of learning is nauseating and, yes, smacks of racial condescension.)

Ever since she got to town, Rhee has won the hearts and minds of parents and others by talking about her passion for instilling in young Washingtonians the love of learning that school should be all about. That's why she's fought against the narrowing of curriculum forced onto school systems by the No Child Left Behind test mania. That's why she's recruited a whole new generation of teachers and principals to replace those D.C. schools staffers who truly believed that "these kids"--the mainly low-income black students who account for nine in ten D.C. schoolchildren--cannot learn.

So how does she now justify the idea that children must be paid to behave properly and take school seriously?

Washington's middle school students are failing in spectacular fashion. In the national NAEP test scores, the District ranks last among all urban districts in the country, with only 12 percent of eighth graders proficient in reading and only nine percent at grade level in math.

"These numbers are absolutely dismal," Rhee said. "Middle school is a turning point. These are the years when they crystallize their attitudes toward education. This is the time for some sort of radical intervention."

So far, so good, and that's why Rhee has been properly fascinated by experiments in all-day or all-year schools and even boarding programs--anything to pull kids away from dysfunctional homes and neighborhoods where there are far too few models of devotion to academic achievement.

But here's Rhee's rationale for embracing the idea of paying kids: "This is exactly what life is about. You get a paycheck every two weeks. We're preparing children for life, for their jobs."

Really? I asked the chancellor if she does her grueling, all-consuming job for the money. To her credit, she took the question seriously.

"Do I do my work for the money? Absolutely not. However, would I do this job if I wasn't paid at all?" She couldn't do that, she said, but that was a deflection of the question. Of course Rhee doesn't do this for the money. No one who does creative or enterprising work is in it solely for the bucks. At every level of work, whether executive or clerk, the energy and commitment put into the job is determined far more by a sense of pride, belonging or achievement than by the money. That doesn't mean money isn't important, essential, and a factor in determining job happiness. But money is at best a short-term, superficial motivator.

School, according to Rhee's own oft-stated views, should not be a grim, bottom-line enterprise. If you can get kids to discover the thrill and satisfaction of mastering new material from a very early age, you have them hooked--the whole job of educating then becomes vastly easier. Paying them is the ultimate expression of surrender.

"If this new partnership seems out of the box, it is," Fenty said at the presser announcing the deal. (No money changes hands between the District and Harvard; Fryer's lab handles most of the paperwork on the project and grants pay for Harvard's end of the costs, Rhee told me.) The mayor said it's time for a radical approach in "a school system that for too long has seen too much money being spent with too little result."

But this radical approach is wholly unproven. Fryer is something of an intellectual firebrand. He takes on hot button issues and submits them to the kind of rigorous test that they don't usually get because most people are too sensitive about open discussion of the possibilities. So he examines whether differences in racial groups' academic performance might have genetic roots (not likely, his research concluded), whether distinctively black names sentence children to lives of discrimination or lower economic status (no, it's the family background that plays a much larger role, he found), and whether school segregation is necessarily a bad thing (in the aggregate, yes, but in a particular school, not really, he concludes.)

The pay-to-learn schemes Fryer is running in New York and now Washington are experiments. He does not claim to have evidence yet that the program works, though he hints that he will have data this fall indicating some success.

But the early reports from another New York City pay-incentive program show no such luck: High school students who were offered up to $1,000 if they scored high on Advanced Placement tests were indeed more likely to take the exams, but actually scored lower than those who took the test than those who went through the process before the pay incentives took effect.

Must 3,000 D.C. students in 14 middle schools really be subjected to this degrading experiment just to build up the pile of evidence that school is indeed not money? Apparently so, because we live in impatient times, and Mayor Blackberry and his dynamic schools sidekick want to get there right now.

Here, kid, here's a dollar. Now shut up and learn.


By Marc Fisher |  August 22, 2008; 8:28 AM ET
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In the movie, The Great Debaters, the James L. Farmer, Sr. character tells his 14-year-old son, that he must do what he "has to do" in school in order that he "can do" what he "wants to do" later. Calling Hollywood: time to rewrite that dialogue with today's 14-year-old boys in mind. Something a bit more current, like "We'll do what we need to do if we're paid to do it . . ."

This will not work. Any parent knows that as soon as you start bribing kids, the lesson they take away is this: don't do the right thing simply because it's the right thing to do. Do it only if you get something in exchange. Precisely the wrong message to send to kids, no matter their race or class.

Posted by: trace1 | August 22, 2008 8:53 AM

how about we pay the parents if their kids succeed?

Posted by: how about this | August 22, 2008 8:57 AM


I think you frame this argument poorly, but wholeheartedly agree with you that paying students is a poor idea.

I think Fenty and Rhee are wrong to embrace this, but have some compassion for Rhee. This tenure and merit fight with the union would make anyone a little desperate.

Probably a much better, but still terrible, idea to fine parents when they don't get their elementary and middle school kids to school on time with a full stomach or if their kid doesn't do his/her homework.

Posted by: wrong direction | August 22, 2008 9:33 AM

Nice. Lets make this retroactive.

I graduated with a 3.45 GPA in 1972.

Using compounded interest, I would guestimate (that is what they call it in math nowadays) the DC school system owes me around $375,000.00 for my grades.

Time to pay up. Unless you are going to discriminate against me because of my age ...

Posted by: OldGuy | August 22, 2008 9:35 AM

Starting this program on the heals the recent DC Summer Jobs scandal, Washington's schoolchildren are finally going to learn the only lesson that matters: if you're black, the government has to give you cash.

It's not just change you can believe in, it's a wad of paper money from Uncle Fenty too.

Posted by: athea | August 22, 2008 9:38 AM

Oops, I just made a typo. I guess I don't get my $50 this week.

Oh wait, as long as I don't kill anyone, I'm entitled to that money no matter what I do!

Posted by: athea | August 22, 2008 9:41 AM

Well, Marc, I don't think you've quite hit the nail on the head, but you're close.

The real problem is that extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic motivation to do the very thing being rewarded and such rewards teach people to devalue the very things being rewarded. This has been shown time and again -- talk with your colleague Shankar Vedantam about some recent studies on this.

As a result, I fear that all these rewards will do, in the long run, is make kids less interested in coming to school, behaving, etc. In other words, Marc, the biggest problem with this program is that it will produce the exact opposite effects that it is intended to produce.

Posted by: Ryan | August 22, 2008 9:46 AM

I don't think this policy is racist at all. Classist, probably. Marc includes racial adjectives on his categories of inner-city kids and suburban kids, but I don't think that the poor, inner-city kids are necessarily black. They are almost uniformly poor, and too many have parents that are not interested in education for themselves or their kids.

Having not been taught at home that education is a path to achievement, offering cash incentives is just another way to motivate students. Might not be ideal, or noble, but it might work.

I do wonder if paying the parents might be more to the point, and cheaper. Instead of offering $100 every two weeks, offer $100 to parents to show up to teacher conferences, school activities, and to monitor their kids homework. Some people might pay more attention to their kids progress if they knew they would be paid, just like their other jobs.

Posted by: annapolis | August 22, 2008 9:55 AM

Why not just skip all this learnin' stuff, and make the kids do some government work?
Anyone else see the story on the news about Federal workers simply not showing up for work?
I bet a 10-13 year old could accomplish paper filing and sorting better than a non-present, federal employee.
+ the youngster only needs $50-$100 a week.
oh...and then Mr. Fryer can write a book - for profit - about the need for child labor laws and the abysmal "working" conditions of DC schools...wait, Upton Sinclair already did that, 100 years careful not to plagiarize....ooh..can we merge NCLB and the government notion of pay-for-performance?
win-win..and an improvement in government efficiency....I could probably keep going..but I should get back to my job.

Posted by: Skip it | August 22, 2008 9:55 AM

Why not just skip all this learnin' stuff, and make the kids do some government work?
Anyone else see the story on the news about Federal workers simply not showing up for work?
I bet a 10-13 year old could accomplish paper filing and sorting better than a non-present, federal employee.
+ the youngster only needs $50-$100 a week.
oh...and then Mr. Fryer can write a book - for profit - about the need for child labor laws and the abysmal "working" conditions of DC schools...wait, Upton Sinclair already did that, 100 years careful not to plagiarize....ooh..can we merge NCLB and the government notion of pay-for-performance?
win-win..and an improvement in government efficiency....I could probably keep going..but I should get back to my job.

Posted by: Alexandria, VA | August 22, 2008 9:58 AM

Quite frankly, I couldn't vare less if Rhee started a program where she hired Tibetan monks to do twice daily "education" chants over schools loudspeakers. You know as well as anyone that the DC system is broken and the DCPS history of the past 15 years reflects the tried and true methods for making change, and yet here we are.

Obviously "SOMETHING" out of the box has to be done and I think it is time we try some of these outlandish options. Nothing else has worked. I personally don't like the idea of having public money reward kids for grades, but in reality is it any different from what many parents already do? I got 5 dollars per "A" on my report card from my parents a could decades ago when I was in school. It was a nice little reward that I consciously knew I would get if I could just study a little longer for "that test". The only difference here is the money is coming from the city, and not the parents.

Lastly Marc, you may disagree with Fryer but before you do so I suggest you take a drive past some public highschool parking lots in Fairfax, Loudoun and Montgomery County when the school season begins because they could easily be mistaken for one of a number of Mercedes, BMW or Audi dealerships in the region, and we all know the teachers can't afford them.

Posted by: David | August 22, 2008 10:01 AM

Students must first value education. When we have a population where so many fathers are missing from families, students values are impacted. The School System needs to establish a link with the Distict's Human Services organizations with the goal of supporting an increase in after-school tutoring and support services. Most kids want to do their homework and to perform well in class. However, if the family structure is weak, most assuredly, they will require aggressive tutoring services. This is where Teachers come in. The E Pluribis Unim (pardon my spelling) approach is flawed. We need "all hands on deck." Establish city-wide after-school Learning Centers in each Ward. Pay Teachers to man them. Provide security. I think we will get results. In this context, I could support a stipend of sort paid to students provided they demonstrate full participation. However, I do not see using such a policy for regular school attendance.

Posted by: DZPost | August 22, 2008 10:04 AM

This is incredible. I'm not usually one to call or write, but Fenty, and Jack Evans will be hearing from me on this one.

I voted for Fenty, but so far, he's done everything he can to lose my vote when he's up for reelection. and depending on how Evans feels about this issue, i may actually vote for that silverman guy.

Posted by: DCGuy | August 22, 2008 10:12 AM

I would support the money going towards a certain number of scholarships that all DC students can compete for.

Posted by: DC | August 22, 2008 10:24 AM

Why not start something different. Many of the kids are poor. My parents believed that you worked hard in school for your own achievement. I never bought it. All of my friends got money for good grades. I didn't. I didn't necessarily understand my parents when I was a kid, and still think that it would have been a great motivator. Times have changed.

Posted by: kvb | August 22, 2008 10:32 AM

Marc, you're being too hard on Rhee, Fenty, et al. At least their teaching kids one thing, bribery.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 22, 2008 10:33 AM

Marc - Do you have children? Did you ever promise them something if they got a certain grade or average in school? Did you ever take something away from a kid that was failing or got a bad mid-term grade?

I do not think that my family is the only one in the DC area that dangles cash rewards to kids for school achievenment.

It works with some kids and not for others.

I agree that intrinsic self-motivation is best, but sometimes you've go to prime the pump. If you could get that reward cycle going with cash rewards I think it's worth a try.

Middle/Upper class kids reap all kinds of rewards for school preformance. Most families don't give out shiny NEW cars, but many will make the families OLD car available to kids with good grades.

As a parent I think sometimes you have to try everything and see what works. Since many inner-city kids don't have parents with the means to dole out rewards, what's wrong with trying this?

Posted by: RoseG | August 22, 2008 10:52 AM

I can guarantee two things:
1. This plan is going to generate way more negative controversy than it will generate positive effects.
2. This column will be a lightning rod for racist commentary

Posted by: DCer | August 22, 2008 10:53 AM

Many children in DC middle schools receive no encouragement, motivation, or incentive from family members.

Many children in DC middle schools have teachers that do not "inspire" them to learn.

This is a program that IS classist and "racist" in the sense that it points out that minority students, specifically in the city, are not achieving and don't have the internal or external drive to achieve on their own.

Will $100 every two weeks change this? I disagree with Mark: this is an experiement worth doing. With all the ideas in education research that are not rigorously tested, I'm all for making DC kids a test case.
The founder

Posted by: Lets talk about some brutal truth | August 22, 2008 10:53 AM

The founder...seems like a guy that wouldn't condescend to kids, but rather recognize that it might take some extra incentive to get kids to the finish line.

Posted by: previous post continued | August 22, 2008 10:56 AM

I support this idea. I was a kid who had an innate love of learning, but my public school classes were so frequently hijacked by disruptive hooligan classmates with no such drive that my teachers spent most of their time and attention struggling to maintain order rather than teaching the rest of us. The allure of $100 might have been enough to quiet the "bad boys" down long enough so that the rest of us might have had the chance to actually learn something.

Posted by: Chinatown | August 22, 2008 10:56 AM

school is to learn stuff that helps you to go through life. the rest- sense of achievement, social recognition, etc. are to satisfy your ego, and perform better if this is a driver for you.

in general people understand two things: the carrot and the stick. The stick was taken away by laws, rules and regulation. these guys are trying to use the carrot. what is wrong with it ? it has nothing racial/social, it just tries to "help" the human nature.

Posted by: va | August 22, 2008 10:57 AM

Middle/Upper class kids reap all kinds of rewards for school preformance. Most families don't give out shiny NEW cars, but many will make the families OLD car available to kids with good grades.

As opposed to inner city kids who don't get to use the family's car? I live in DC, you think Dad is out on the sidewalk telling junior that he can't use the car until his grades improve? Heck no, he's asking the kid to pull the car in front of the building and throwing him the keys and yelling at junior when the kid has the radio blasting when he drives up. One could say that on average the inner city Dads are a bit too lenient with the car and should probably take the keys away more often- particularly if you remember the hooptie era of the mid 1990s.

My son's daycare teachers showed us their church's graduation day event where every kid who moved onto the next grade got to parade up to the pastor and be congratulated and that church is in Northeast DC. That seemed like a really special way that they celebrated success in a tough neighborhood.

My parents refused to offer me cash for grades and refused to link my use of the car to good behavior on moral grounds. I had to prove myself worthy of a license to the state, not via an A in English. And no one on my block in Bethesda got a car at graduation- our parents all told us the same thing- save your money and buy your own, and sure my parents paid for many repairs, but they didn't offer me a penny towards the car's purchase. I knew only one friend who received a car as a gift and he was a diplomat.

Graduation presents among the rich in DC, actually, are beach trips, just so people know. (and no, I didn't get one either)

Posted by: DCer | August 22, 2008 11:08 AM

Re: Rewards from Parents

There is an important distinction between a monetary reward given to a student by the school versus by a parent. If the parent is giving the reward it still shows the student in some way that the parent values education. It may not produce a great love of learning in the kid, but there is still an important message.

That message is lost if the money comes from the school.

Posted by: Billy | August 22, 2008 11:14 AM

A few things to add to this regarding the race issue, do not believe the DCPS statistics on their students' race. I know of mixed race children who were uniformly categorized by the secretary as members of the minority race, not white, because that is viewed as advantageous by the school administration.

Our local elementary school is majority Latino as are a few elementary schools in our area.

People sometimes look at the DCPS stats and think that the system is almost entirely African-American. That data is simply false data. I regularly saw several dozen white families at our neighborhood school but the statistics printed in the post said there were only 10 white kids there. That data simply is false and in a few more years it will magically change back to normal, I'm sure of it.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 22, 2008 11:22 AM

as I understand the program, schools will be picked at random, so it's just as likely that middle schools in upper NW will participate as those in far SE. Still, if my kid is in a school not selected, I'm going to feel cheated. If they can't offer it to all, don't offer it to any.

Posted by: eomcmars | August 22, 2008 11:26 AM

This is a good idea. I'd rather give the kids struggling to learn money than waste more money on a dysfunctional adversarial unionized teacher organization and administration. Marc, you know the District schools are scandals and a fiefdom by politicos and teachers who care more about seniority than know the schools don't work...YOU send your kids to private schools...How freakin DARE you condemn efforts to help poor students, yes poor students, by putting a few bucks in their hands if they can manage to escape the dysfunctional environment around them - both at home and at their schools - and lift themselves up and get an education and a few bucks at the same time?? Go ahead and respond to this one.

Posted by: Falls Church | August 22, 2008 11:32 AM

First they take my money to educate other people's children, then they take my money to give these other people's children an allowance ... What next? Will they come to take my money to pay for other people's children to have more children? Oh wait, don't they already do this?

Something is wrong with this picture. And taking my money to let other people in this town motivate their children to learn basic elementary school skills is just one sympthom of a very very sick system of entitlement.

Posted by: Not Happy with Status Quo | August 22, 2008 11:43 AM

I am curious about a few things.

Is this money coming from the school budget?

If yes, what is being reduced/eliminated to pay for it?

If no, where is this money coming from?

And couldn't we buy school supplies for the kids instead of paying them to do what they are supposed to be doing anyway?

Posted by: DC Voter | August 22, 2008 11:47 AM

Hold on sole brother Fisher, don’t try to make your point and bring up this program bordering on being racially condescending. I think that premise should be made by someone who experiences racially condescending behavior every other day.

Posted by: KT | August 22, 2008 11:48 AM

what is the difference in a parent paying there children for a good report card then what she is doing? I look at this as forming a work ethic in our young people now so when they get into the work force they will have an idea of what they must do in order to get paid. instead of always looking at the negitive side of this why doesnt everyone just sit back and chill and see if this is going to work. at least I can say she is trying to do something to stimulate these kids into learning. parents you may not agree with everything she is trying to do but you should try to work along with her in trying to get your children the best education possible. in the real world if you dont have a good education your children wont be able to apply for McDonalds or any other job because they wouldnt be able to fill out the application or have clue on what should be on the application.

Posted by: browneyes1 | August 22, 2008 12:36 PM

Did I miss something? Isn't this already done on the high school level in the form of scholarships for high GPAs? Yes, change the format but don't dismiss the idea altogether. By the way, my parents instituted that idea with me when I was a kid, $10 per A, $5 per B, nothing for a C, -$5 for a D and a beatdown for an F. It worked.

Posted by: ahs78grad | August 22, 2008 1:33 PM

I just finished talking to a friend of mine whose daughter is in PG County high school and she detailed more problems, such as inability to meet with the parents and students to prepare for senior year, particularly re: college applications, than I could possibly imagine.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 22, 2008 1:40 PM

Mr. Fisher,

I agree with many of the contributors of this site when they speak of the ways rich kids are rewarded. I live near Dulles Airport (and I work 2.5 jobs to do so) to make sure my children received a decent education and a fair quality of life. Many of my son's peers, upon high school graduation, did indeed receive new Audis, BMWs, etc. This does NOT "just happen in Hollywood movies." In being honest, however, most of my son's friends did not receive cars and were raised to work hard and "make that car happen."

His friends are a group of young men that I am proud to see working and going to college. Their parents raised them with the values regarding the ethics of hard work that I don't see very often today in this country as so many Americans are purely motivated by the dollar that there are now actually schools instructing how to get on reality shows.

I think you raise some good points in your article and I continue to read and enjoy your columns. But, I think it may be beneficial for you to "step outside yourself" and REALLY look at the world before you state things about habits in the DC equivalents of Orange County as compared to the inner city.

Since this program will be submitted to schools at random, I wonder how much money will be paid to schools west of the park as opposed to every place else in DC.

I guess we will have to wait and see but I believe that we are headed into a "damned-if-we-do-damned-if-we-don't" scenario with this situation.

Thank You For Your Time,

"Attended DC schools K-UDC"

Posted by: graphixgeek | August 22, 2008 1:44 PM

I don't think kids need to be paid for every thing they do. Getting paid for going to school is surly not the way to train a child in the way he or she should go. Take a minute and think about who made sure you went to school? Did you have everything that you needed and if you didn't go, who would be waiting for you at the front door???? People, lets get real! Parents (even if you don't have children) lets just do our job as parents. Take a little responsiblity for your kids and help other parents out with their's. It won't work until we all take a part, be a parent not a friend. One other thing STOP complaining, do something!!

Posted by: Linda | August 22, 2008 1:51 PM

The middle schools in DC are a mess. I had my child in three different middle schools and there were problems at all of them. I finally had to move to MD to seek relief. My sone is now going to the 11th grade in MD and is finally getting to realize the importance of school. This idea may not be the best solution, but until someone comes up with a better idea, I say, LET'S TRY IT!!

Posted by: Rob | August 22, 2008 2:48 PM

I don't see how money will motivate a child in a home environment that's not condusive to learning. The classroom is where they receive instruction, but in order to excel the child must do the necessary follow-up activities (homework, studying) at home. I hope I'm wrong and that this "incentive pay" initiative works but if it doesn't DCPS may want to consider DZPost's suggestion of implementing an agressive, mandatory after-school program run by motivated teachers. Pay them to do what the parents aren't doing.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 22, 2008 3:12 PM

You criticize Fryer's statements as "smacks of racial condescension." You do not mention that Fryer is black. That fact does not mean that his approach or word are not condescending, but isn't it relevant to the discussion?

Posted by: npm | August 22, 2008 3:18 PM

This story made! The leader for weird education headlines.

Posted by: hall monitor | August 22, 2008 5:03 PM

I think there's an element of trying to separate the kid from the parent. A middle school kid is 12-14. So, the parent should be compensated, not the kid. So many of those kids are from low income households, so by paying the kid you further weaken the hold the parent has on them, precisely at a moment when they are starting to rebel. You are showing up the parent.

You tell kids, don't take candy from strangers. Somehow, it seems like we ought to be reinforcing the parents, not undermining them.

And, a lot of those families could use the money. I've been going to the public pool this summer and so many of the kids have swim trunks that are obviously hand me downs. So, if you're going to reward someone, how about putting the parent/guardian in the loop.

Posted by: RJ | August 22, 2008 6:14 PM

If they are paid to go to school and behave well, then maybe they should also get an education on how to spend/save and keep track of the money they are given. Since this seems to be a huge problem in this country, it might be worthwhile. Teach them about it early and they won't struggle so much later on.

Posted by: Beth | August 22, 2008 8:32 PM

If they are paid to go to school and behave well, then maybe they should also get an education on how to spend/save and keep track of the money they are given. Since this seems to be a huge problem in this country, it might be worthwhile. Teach them about it early and they won't struggle so much later on.

Posted by: Beth | August 22, 2008 8:34 PM

RJ, while you comment is good-hearted, I was in Philadelphia several years ago when a "breakfast truck" used to drive through an area next to where we were meeting. The truck would drive up and give an orange juice and a sandwich to a child on their free breakfast list- these kids looked like they were 4 or 5. I saw an obese woman, clearly the child's guardian, snatch the sandwich right out of the child's hand and eat it. We were all stunned and just stood there because what mother in her right mind would steal her child's breakfast? The truck driver drove up to our group, shook his head and said "N*****S!" and drove on. True story that made me feel really sick inside for years.

So no, if these kids are in these kinds of bad situations then the only responsible thing for society to do is totally separate them from their parents. Take them out of the house at the first sign of truancy and send them to a boarding school out in the countryside where they have a hope of growing up without being shot.

If a parent lives in Trinidad or in section 8 housing, they already blew it in their life. We as a society cannot and should not let them ruin American opportunity for their children too. I think about that woman outside of Temple University who stole her child's free city breakfast. You don't trust parents like that with money, you put them in jail and you get their kids in a family that's not mentally ill with beefs, and crews, and misplaced priorities and section 8 housing. You give the kids a chance by removing them from their parents at a much earlier sign of neglect than currently. It's the only solution for saving these children's lives. There's no half-stepping on this.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 22, 2008 8:36 PM

Pay the kids. Why should they have to work for free. All the adults get paid.

Posted by: JY | August 22, 2008 10:04 PM

As an educator, I think the idea of paying students to come to school and for getting good grades is appalling ! What happened to work ethics ? What is the incentive to pursue a higher education (college) where they have to pay and will not be getting paid. A more worthwhile approach would be to put the money in a fund that could be used to pay for college or trade school. Students need to value education and for many students offering them money will not ensure their attendance when many of them stay up late at night due to the lack of parenting that they are growing up with. I agree with a previous writer that bribes are not the answer. Bribing students makes education meaningless and worthles to them.

Posted by: educator | August 22, 2008 10:54 PM

After reading in the Post the idea to pay middle school kids (or any public school student to learn) I am outraged.

When Chancellor Rhee was made the boss of the school system with the ideas of throwing out teachers that could not teach and rearranging the system I was delighted.

After reading this article I believe Ms. Rhee and the Mayor need to go on a retreat and maybe rethink where the city gets its money (tax payers of the US.). And what better ways it can be spent on, like tutors
who are selected form good citizens and maybe paid for from the funds which according to the paper will be given to students as an incentive (who probably cannot even count to $100).

Get real, with the economy going down the tubes and lower and middle income people in the District having problems with basic needs such as jobs, power and gas bills let alone rent, how in the world can you even think of passing out money to some kid who has no idea how he or she is going to spend it unless it is on a vedio game or some hip hop crap.

I thought a lot of the Adrian Fenty when he was elected and thought the schools and its students where going to start in the right direction this year, but if handing out $100 checks to some kid who could not care less is their answer, the city is in sorry, sorry shape under that type of thinking.

I was also behind home rule. I believed the new Mayor would right the ship. Now with this hair brained idea.
I don't know what to believe.

Posted by: shortmort219 | August 23, 2008 11:04 AM

Putting all family income and race thoughts aside.. Money is an incentive. If a child gets down and actively participtes in their education, why not give them something for their efforts. They and the world they live in will benefit. GO KIDS!

Posted by: ex-teacher | August 24, 2008 2:03 PM

Bribing is meaningless? The only thing meaningless are the failed suggestions everybody has been repeating. Let's get our ducks in row. I'd rather produce a literate kid than an illiterate one with great work ethics. I'd prefer both, in spades, but's first things first. In this day-and-age, I'd prefer a lazy Ph.D over an unemployed steelworker (though I'd respect the latter more, what I respect is besides the point.)

Look, not all middle-class suburban kids get shiny new cars (though some, in fact, do). But many (perhaps not even most, but significantly more than poor kids) experience positive reinforcement for academic success. That reinforcement just doesn't exist in many communities, and in many families.

I have no problem giving cash to kids. If $50/week induces a child to read more, to attempt to excel at math with greater vigor, I'm all for it. Put these kids first, not your own egos. Yes, "work ethic" is important (incredibly important!), but a work ethic isn't something you inculcate; it's something kids adopt by themselves. Putting money into a college fund for a child who still doesn't "get it" is akin to simply burning it.

Get over yourselves. I think it's a great idea, and any kid from any walk of life will heed the siren call of cold hard cash. Any criticisms should examine the structure of the payouts, so as to make sure we maximize the benefit. Kids are smart (stellar grades or not), so I'm sure they'll try to game the system.

Posted by: Bill | August 24, 2008 2:07 PM

To all the parents outraged: guess what, you're in the minority. You're in the minority where ever you are, inner-city or McMasionville. Get over yourselves. For every one of you, there's at least a half-dozen parents who haven't picked up a newspaper in years, or merely yell at their kids to do better whenever a report card rolls in.

It's nice that you all band together so as to tout your excellent parenting skills (and/or your parents excellent skills). But in your righteous indignation, you're short-changing all the children who don't have parents as encouraging as yourselves.

Posted by: Bill | August 24, 2008 2:16 PM

"Anything to pull kids away from dysfunctional homes and neighborhoods where there are far too few models of devotion to academic achievement."

That quote says it all. It's not only schools that need to change, but the society in which they exist. If poverty, dispair and an undervaluing of learning is the problem, then that has to be solved. A lot is done is schools to address these inequities, but schools can't do it all. The real effort must be made in reducing income inequality.

Posted by: Everyman | August 24, 2008 2:25 PM

This is why you never vote democRAT, anywhere. Everything they do is political, even in schools, where minorities need the most care, the democRATS feel the voice of the unions is more important. And then these kids get into trouble and the cycle continues. They have no shame, no desire to fix a system-since they vote democRAT anyways, and no apologies to anyone. And their only solution is to throw more taxpayer money at the problem. Sound familiar people? Now you know why you and I pay such high taxes.

Posted by: Toxic Avenger | August 24, 2008 3:01 PM

The time for Action is now. There is a point where problems become s profound that leaders must quickly assess all their options and select one and sometimes the most radcal option is the only one that will shake the foundations of a stagnant system in retreat or change backwards world views. I am an African American and while we have made great contributions to the history of this nation there are fewer communities that are more resistant to change. If parents do not have the "education" bug, the love of learning will not be bequeathed to their children without lightning striking.

I applaud Chancellor Rhee because she is taking bold action where none was taken before. Is the awarding of money condescending – maybe, but I argue that is the least of the worries of the residents of D.C. We are losing a generation of young men and women to the streets. Often the lure of the streets is materialism itself. Money from the trade of drugs, prostitution or other crimes is a powerful inducement. Not only do our young men and women get this from streets, but they seen in the media that is targeted to African Americans. BET showcases African Americans displaying the latest fashions and jewelry and these are not the African American who made it through academic sweat and toil, but those who made it through entertainment and sport.

It is this society and its pressures that are condensing. It is condensing that society does not make inner city African Americans aware of the choices they have in the world today. This is apparent in another problem facing African Americans. Note the ratio of fast food restaurants to grocery stores next time you drive through the inner city. To resolve some problems fire must be met with fire.

Yes, the parents of these children should take the initiative, but the truth is they have not. We must count some of these parents out of the equation – that is reality. So what affirmative action should we take - accept that we must increase our budget for a juvenile justice system and a criminal justice system for those who live to age eighteen? I say no. Shake the system up and people’s values up now. If money makes people value education in the short term then the taxpayer is likely to get a better return than an investment in later incarceration or social programs to support children of single mothers. Lets fight fire with fire.

Posted by: VApolitics | August 24, 2008 3:28 PM

Schools basically teach kids to fit in to bureaucracies. Sit still, have your butt in your chair at starting and ending time, look like you're working.

The black kids in DC don't learn this lesson so they don't get to have all the high paying civil service jobs inside the beltway. I think this is very racist and applaud Dr. Rhee for helping make it clear to the students what the deal is - act like a good bureaucrat and get money! I think these kids should have a chance at those lucrative civil service sinecure jobs - they certainly have a hard enough life now! The rich white snots who get those jobs nowadays had all the advantages growing up, they have no excuse not to get a real job and work hard at it!

Posted by: Andy | August 24, 2008 11:02 PM

I have a simple question, how dumb is dumb?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 25, 2008 1:42 AM

michelle rhee deserves credit for trying.

Posted by: abner rahimn | August 25, 2008 6:50 AM

Be wary of Fryer's "evaluation" of his own project in NYC this fall. He created it; it is his brain child. He is monitoring it. Now he is going to "evaluate" it. Really?


Posted by: Jones | August 25, 2008 2:22 PM

"I'd rather give the kids struggling to learn money than waste more money on a dysfunctional adversarial unionized teacher organization and administration"

I agree entirely!

The amount of money going to kids is a pittance compared to what is spent on falling-down buildings and staff.

Middle-class kids get all kinds of rewards from their families.

Why such outrage over even trying this?

Posted by: RoseG | August 26, 2008 11:54 AM

I am 57 years old and have lived in the Washington suburbs all my life. I have watched D.C. ever soooo sloowwly pull itself up by the bootstraps after years of abject failure in every area, and Michelle Rhee is the latest example of that. I think you are nitpicking and undermining her support by fixating on this minor issue, instead of the incredible impact she has already made on a completely broken system.

Notice the words "pilot project". This means she will try it and see if it works. This is how all research is done. If it doesn't work, then it will be dropped. Give her a chance, will ya??!!!

Posted by: retiredpathologist | August 26, 2008 12:32 PM

I applaud both Rhee and Fenty in taking on this monumental task and for being willing to try out of the box, radical solutions to this long-standing problem. The system is broken, and while Fisher laments of not instituting a love of learning, he offers no solution of how to keep those kids in the classroom long enough to instill that love.

In business it's called "fake it till you make it". You embrace a strategy or mechanism that gets the boat moving in the right direction, and you improvise as you go. You cannot instill academic values in students who don't show up. If paying them gets them there and paying attention, then the burden is on the school system to engage and retain them. This policy at least gives teachers a fighting chance at instilling lessons and values.

Rhee's tactics should be applauded for her ambition and aggression. She's not taking her time to settle in, she's going after sweeping changes immediately. If teachers who have long been part of this defunct system don't like it, then so be it. Rhee can and will vastly improve the D.C. school systems, and she'll remove anyone or thing that stands in her way.

Sure as Fisher points out, no one expects her to improve school grades over night. I'm pretty certain it isn't his children falling victim to the system in many of these schools, otherwise he too might be seeking more immediate improvements. Thankfully, D.C. has a leader who doesn't have Fisher's patience and actually senses the urgency required to engage a generation.

Posted by: Rj | August 26, 2008 3:26 PM

So easy to sit back and forget how many times you were rewarded for getting good grades or graduating, or how many times you have done that to your own kids. Maybe it has not been as quid-pro-quo as X$/session attended, but nevertheless, the cold reality of it is that many of the fortunate few, who studied long enough to know the value of reading the news and commenting on it, were encouraged, pushed, cajoled, and yes maybe even sometimes bribed to do what they should do. Somewhere along the way some of us tasted the pure joy of learning, and got hooked without any further assistance. Those of us who simply rode along, at least got enough out of it to make a meaningful difference.

This is a lesson in reality versus truth. To say that this teaches the kids the wrong lesson, is akin to reminding victims of a burning house about fire-safety rather than sending in the rescue crew. Our kids are "Bribed" on the streets (extrinsic motivation) with the easy fire. Miracles, and Hollywood, may happen to a few kids, but what else would you do for a great majority of them?
When it comes to saving lives from fire, anything goes. Once out of fire, let's sit and discuss love of science.

Posted by: MasoudL | August 26, 2008 4:12 PM

Rhee axes counselors from the elementary budget and pays students to avoid behavioral issues in middle school. Hmmm.... correlation?

Posted by: 4learning | August 26, 2008 8:34 PM

"The school renovations aren't going so well,"

$200 million renovation, every classroom open on time.

"The teachers are resisting Chancellor Michelle Rhee's ambitious plan to undo decades-old seniority and tenure rules,"

Michelle will get her way on every point.

"and student performance remains persistently miserable."

Student test scores just had their best improvement ever.

What's the matter Marc? Is DCPS success bad for your column?

Posted by: JAY | August 26, 2008 8:39 PM

"The school renovations aren't going so well,"

$200 million renovation, every classroom open on time.

"The teachers are resisting Chancellor Michelle Rhee's ambitious plan to undo decades-old seniority and tenure rules,"

Michelle will get her way on every point.

"and student performance remains persistently miserable."

Student test scores just had their best improvement ever.

What's the matter Marc? Is DCPS success bad for your column?

Posted by: JAY | August 26, 2008 8:40 PM

"The school renovations aren't going so well,"

$200 million renovation, every classroom open on time.

"The teachers are resisting Chancellor Michelle Rhee's ambitious plan to undo decades-old seniority and tenure rules,"

Michelle will get her way on every point.

"and student performance remains persistently miserable."

Student test scores just had their best improvement ever.

What's the matter Marc? Is DCPS success bad for your column?

Posted by: JAY | August 26, 2008 8:46 PM

You have to be kidding me. Maybe we should pay them if they do the dishes, take out the trash, feed the dog.

School is a MUST if they want to make something of themselves!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2008 3:22 PM

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