Monday, June 25, 2007

Amsterdam News: Paying Kids to Take Tests by TananGgachi Mfuni...

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will pay low-income Black and Hispanic public school students for taking tests. The initiative is part of a cash incentive program, Opportunity NYC, geared towards reducing poverty the mayor and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs outlined last Monday.

Education advocates had a mixed reaction to the student portion of the program which begins this fall. The city would give fourth graders at participating schools $5 for taking tests and seventh graders $10. For scoring top marks, fourth graders would receive $25 and seventh graders $50. If they score well on all ten tests given throughout the year, fourth graders could receive as much as $250, and seventh graders $500.

Harvard professor Dr. Ronald G. Fryer, Jr. will oversee the incentive plan for the DOE. Fryer, 30, has also been named the Department of Education's chief equality officer. The Black economist advocates cash incentives for students as a means of narrowing the much documented achievement gap between Black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts.

City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson supports the plan. Jackson said it gave kids "an immediate incentive" and would cause students to have more "self esteem" and get "better grades."

However critics like Medgar Evers education professor Dr. Sam Anderson disagrees.

"I'm not a believer in these kinds of financial rewards for intellectual development. It feeds into the capitalistic structure," said Anderson, who argued the incentive program encouraged students to be materialistic.

"We should not continually instill in our young people that the pursuit of money is the pursuit of all happiness," he said.

Moreover, Anderson said the amount of money being distributed was too little.

"The little bit of money that's paid out is a joke," Anderson said. "You don't buy educational excellence by bribing kids with chump change." Anderson suggested putting money towards college fund instead.

The 40 schools the DOE plans to implement the cash incentive program in this fall are not yet determined. A spokeswoman for the DOE said Dr. Fryer has sent letters out and conducted meetings with principals interested in the program. The program would also give $5000 to schools that participate.

The Opportunity NYC is being paid for by private funding that will come from several non-profits including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Starr Foundation, the Robin Hood Foundation as well as Mayor Bloomberg.

The education chair said he might have had second thoughts about the program had it depended on public funds. �I don�t know I would allocate public funds to do this,� Jackson said.

Other features of the Opportunity NYC program give cash rewards, in some cases several hundred dollars, to families if they maintain their health insurance, hold a full time job, send their kids to school, and ensure their kids take and pass tests like the state-issued