Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

[Susan notes: Obviously, this is one of those issues in which the responses reveal one's deep core philosophy. ]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

To the Editor:

Re “Next Question: Can Students Be Paid to Excel?” (front page, March

5), about a program to reward teachers and students for test performance

at P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan:

I was a student teacher at P.S. 188 and am familiar with the school’s

focus on state tests. I was shocked that educated professionals would

support an initiative to pay students for test scores.

As a middle-school English teacher who constantly strives to help

students realize that reading and writing are a larger part of life than

a short state test, I detest the concept of rewarding their performance

with money. Poor students who do basic academic work because it results

in cash are merely being coached to perform, and the people really

benefiting are school professionals and politicians.

This initiative sends the message that learning for learning’s sake is

obsolete. Paying students for test scores reduces the teaching of

English to a transaction, one in which a teacher sells students methods

of fooling test graders.

This is not an education.

Julie Edmonds

New York, March 5, 2008

- -

To the Editor:

There is a simple equity point to be made about this initiative: these

children respond to the same stimulus that middle- and

upper-middle-class children respond to, one that has always been known

by parents. Allowance and allowance bonuses, gifts, trips and other

rewards of monetary value can motivate kids to do well in school.

Why not give these less fortunate kids the same opportunity if their

success and futures are at stake?

Tony Simmons

St. Paul, March 5, 2008

The writer is director of development at the High School for Recording

Arts/Studio 4.

- -

To the Editor:

New York City’s experiment with paying students and teachers for

improved test results is misguided. Research in other school systems,

including studies presented to the American Economic Association,

demonstrates that similar programs do not improve learning.

Like steroids, "bribes" and "bounties" may boost performance in the

short run, but the long-term impact is not positive. In fact, academic

achievement drops off when students enter classes that lack such

incentives. Without the artificial stimulus, their motivation to learn

is undermined.

Also, these programs move schools further away from a focus on the whole

child and toward becoming test-prep centers. Elevating test scores into

the sole "coin" of the educational realm virtually guarantees that

students cannot receive the rich education needed to succeed in a

complex society.

Jesse Mermell

Executive Director, National Center for Fair and Open Testing

Cambridge, Mass., March 5, 2008

- -

To the Editor:

Checkbook strategies to reward students and teachers run the risk of

incurring Campbell’s law.

In the 1970s, the social scientist Donald T. Campbell wrote that the

more any quantitative indicator is used for decision-making, the more it

will be subject to corruption and the more it will corrupt the very

process it is intended to monitor.

With pressure mounting to incorporate into classrooms the same tactics

used in boardrooms, we better be ready for the same unethical behavior

in schools that has characterized corporations.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, March 5, 2008

The writer is a retired teacher.

- -

To the Editor:

What happens when students who earned money for test scores go to a new

school or grade where they don’t receive money? Will they keep working hard?

As a high school teacher in the Bronx, I know that many of my students

would not respond to a cash reward with increased intrinsic motivation

that would last beyond the reward.

Giving bonuses to teachers will work the way it does in the corporate

world; giving bonuses to students will be one more reward that

conditions students in the wrong way — to be selfish and materialistic.

Adam Feinberg

Brooklyn, March 5, 2008

- -

To the Editor:

My 15-year-old son, while generally good at academics, was struggling

with classroom behavior issues. Finally, when he was in ninth grade, in

total frustration, I asked him, "What could I promise you that would

give you the incentive to behave for the rest of the year?" His answer?

A Sony PlayStation.

To his shock, I agreed (although not without some stomach-churning over

the price of the gauntlet he had laid down). In his next two report

cards, every single teacher commented on his remarkable turnaround.

Since I believe a deal is a deal, and he delivered on his side, I

delivered on mine. His behavior has not been an issue since.

Sharon Barr

Philadelphia, March 5, 2008

multiple authors

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.