2007-08-31 / Editorial/Opinion

Will Paying Students For Going To School Lead Those Students To 'A Love Of Learning?'

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein are betting more than $40 million dollars in private money that they can bribe poor, mostly minority students to do better in school and to develop an intrinsic desire to learn. "If you're not motivated to learn, it's very hard to love learning," says Klein. "First, you have to get them into learning and then teach them to love learning." The pilot program, called Opportunity NYC, will draw 5,000 volunteer families being chosen at random from lists of people getting housing assistance from the city. While there are many in Rockaway who fit the criteria, it is unclear whether any locals will be involved and the Department of Education declined to provide either location or names of those involved. There will also be an equal number of students not in the program who will be used as a control group in this social engineering experiment. Students in the program, for example, will get $50 for obtaining a library card and a $400 bonus for graduating from high school. They will get cash bonuses for good grades. Parents of those students will get $25 for attending a parent-teacher conference and $150 a month for maintaining full-time employment. Bloomberg says that the program works well in Mexico and he says it has been successful in reducing poverty in rural areas and increasing school attendance. We don't buy a natural transition from running the program in Mexican rural areas to running them in public housing complexes in New York City. We don't believe that bribing students to go to school or to read books will provide a "love of learning." This approach was tried years ago by the city's special education division, particularly in classes with low-performing emotionally-handicapped students. It was called "Behavior Modification" then, but it really was no different from Opportunity NYC, except in scope. Kids were "paid" with rewards such as books, free time and small trinkets for proper behavior and good grades. Soon, however, they were demanding television sets and Walkman players for proper behavior. When the bribes stopped, so did the appropriate behavior. The plan died of its own weight. We expect the same to happen to Opportunity NYC and we hope that it does before millions of public dollars are earmarked for this harebrained scheme. We understand that the pilot is going to be funded with private money, including some from the mayor, but there must be better ways to spend the earmarked money than in bribes.

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