Original article: Sacramento (CA) Bee
Let's look at the arguments.
- You don't understand our genius - it's not really a bribe: "What we're really looking at is recognition and motivation and incentive to achieve."
- Don't you want to support the children: "It's a way to help kids do better in school," she said. "Isn't that what we all want?"
- It's free to you, someone else pays: Local businesses could be asked to donate prizes, such as tickets to movies, concerts, restaurants or sporting events.
- Feels good to listen to the kids: sparked by a suggestion from a statewide student council group.
- Throw in an attempt at a little guilt: Campuses and districts are ranked and judged by STAR scores, but not students.
- More attempts at feel good - quote a kid: "That would be cool," said John Franz, 15. "I think that most kids would rather be rewarded for doing something good than punished if they don't do good," said Emma DeAmicis, 15. (Correcting the grammar in the quote didn't occur to anyone?)
- Throw in some history that may or may not help your case but sounds insightful: years ago the state offered cash prizes to schools that excelled in testing. The plan backfired at some campuses, however, because pupils began demanding that bonus money be committed to a student activity in return for top effort, Wells said. "They came up with the bright idea of holding out for a good deal," he said. (Which proves this new plan will work, right?)
- We already do this so lets make it state-wide: current state law does not specifically ban nonmonetary incentives, so some districts [reward] with medals, homework passes, yearbook discounts, student-store dollars or other prizes. But ... districts do not routinely offer rewards. Her legislation would remove any ambiguity and provide clear support, though no public funding.
- Ending with the "it's really educational after all" ploy: some campuses in her Elk Grove district use STAR rewards as a vehicle for teaching about accountability and goal-setting.
- Fairness. The good students know they can pass, and that they'll get rewards. The weak students can't pass, and know they'll get screwed. How fair is that? When the rewards come out, everyone puts themselves into in one group or the other. There's no gray here. That's bad news because you've defeated many of those who might succeed later. I remember a comment from one of mine after a honor roll assembly "It's like they're saying 'Here are all the smart people in the school and none of them are you.'"
- Back-stabbing: If you have a limited number of prizes, then the back-stabbing gets vicious. Who is chosen for the prize? Is it a fair lottery and is any choice a fair one? I've seen this happen a lot: the administrator runs the program that randomly chooses, but doesn't like the result so he runs it again and again until the "right" people are "randomly" chosen. Of course, the more cynical ones don't bother choosing randomly.
- A reward implies that student effort is the only factor. Really? How about teacher quality? How about test prep? How about curriculum? I think my own school has a lousy math curriculum - it "matched the state standards" but not the SAT I or II or ACT and didn't build for calculus here or STEM majors in college. Is that the kids fault? (Yes, I'm trying to change it, but those who chose it are convinced it's effective, despite the 16% passing rate on testing this year. Oh well. I've spoken up about it, put in some new courses as electives but in the long run -- Sign my paycheck and you get to call the shots, too.)
- Education is it's own reward. Or, Bribes always backfire in the long run. I tell my students all the time, "If this isn't the education for you, change it. Consider a switch to the tech center. Don't take classes you can't stand. If you can't deal with me, then switch to one of the other teachers. We purposely set up the schedule so that's possible. This is your education - work with it. Learn what's fascinating." A reward switches that focus to the tangible. Children who start down this road then start needing all their rewards and incentives in tangible form. Remove the reward and the incentive is gone. Study Mythology because you want to, not because the teacher gives out M&Ms like the dog trainer at the fair.
- Oh, yes, it costs money: Claiming that local businesses will give the money is foolish. Sure, some will at the start, but soon the rewards are "medals, yearbook discounts, student-store dollars." Who do you think covers that? Additionally, after the first year, then someone (on the payroll and on company time) has to go around to all the businesses asking for those donations, then collecting them and holding them, then writing the "thank you" notes and paying for the signage to thank them in public, then distributing them to the winners. The costs of this "free" stuff is probably more than buying it outright, not that THAT's any more useful.