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Perspective

Make the grade and make money

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published June 10, 2007


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The trips to Waldenbooks were the best.

If I brought home a report card filled with A's and B's, my grandmother would buy me the latest installment of Ramona Quimby or "Sweet Valley High" or "The Babysitters Club."

Sometimes my grandparents even gave me cash as a nod to my honor roll performance.

A material reward for my academic success? Sure. A terrible, shallow bribe? Hardly.

Yes, I ended up with an overflowing shelf full of books that are not exactly the highbrow stuff of class reading lists. But I also came away from grade school with a strong study ethic that helped me later on.

So I don't understand why some parents and educators are appalled at the notion of paying grade-school students who perform well on standardized tests like the FCAT.

A small school district in Ohio three years ago started paying students up to $100 for passing its version of the FCAT, the Times' Ron Matus recently reported. The result: An uptick in math scores.

Florida Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican who pays his grandkids for good report cards, is interested in seeing whether Florida might follow the example of Coshocton, Ohio.

Yet readers, some education experts and even fellow Times reporters balk at the pay-for-performance approach.

Mark Shermis, educational psychology professor at the University of Florida, says paying students isn't the best strategy because the reward can become their only motivation. They begin to study not to broaden their minds, but to get the cold, hard cash.

"They're going to have many, many jobs in their lives, and instilling in them the value of education is something that occurs over time, " Shermis says. "Throwing money at kids undermines that."

Adds University of South Florida professor Harold Keller: "If you have too high a reward, you create a dependency. 'I'm not going to do anything until I get paid.' "

But even Florida teachers want bonuses based on their "performance." Why should their students be any different?

As former Florida education commissioner John Winn told Matus: "Nobody complains about giving kids full scholarships for their achievements."

Exactly.

The fact is, we live in a capitalist society. From very early on, we hear the mantra that hard work leads to success. And the last time I checked, success does not mean being homeless and underpaid.

Sure, we appreciate and need the volunteers, charity workers and social workers who do difficult and vital work for very little. Without them, the world would be in an even sorrier state.

But our economy also depends on doctors, accountants, nurses and executives who run companies that employ lots of people.

And for better or worse, "success" in our society tends to be measured by salaries, cars, homes, vacations and nice suits.

We study so that we can get into good colleges, so that we can be well paid, so that we can buy a house and live a full life and then enjoy a comfortable retirement with our grandkids. Comfortable enough to buy them books when they do well in school.

Which is why plenty of parents, whether they admit it or not, would prefer their children become doctors, lawyers and engineers instead of philosophy or English majors.

The lawyers, after all, stand to make a lot more than the philosophy major who ends up folding khakis at the Gap or serving up Frappuccinos at Starbucks.

Sad, but true. So deal with it and just give the FCAT star his bonus.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3403 or svansickler@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 9, 2007, 19:46:58]


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