Money can’t buy grades

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The idea is so seductively simple -- offer students good money to stay in school. Maybe then more will graduate from high school, or college as some programs hoped, and go on to more prosperous, productive lives. Or not.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/11/2010 (4398 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The idea is so seductively simple — offer students good money to stay in school. Maybe then more will graduate from high school, or college as some programs hoped, and go on to more prosperous, productive lives. Or not.

A study now released by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario shows the elusive nature of these hopes. University students, it found, did not do much better academically when the carrot of financial rewards was held out — the incentives had minimal effect, if any, council CEO Harvey Weingarten said.

That experiment and its results mimic what has been found in other countries that hoped to duplicate the encouraging, but modest results in Mexico, where impoverished families were paid significant amounts every month their children attended high school. Johns Hopkins University researcher Robert E. Slavin has pointed out, however, the Mexican program allowed families to take their children out of the work force, a factor of no real bearing in developed countries.

dale cummings / winnipeg free press 8+

That may explain why programs devised in developing countries are not useful in Western nations. Prof. Slavin’s review of various incentive programs indicated that paying kids to stay in school has had little effect on their learning or achievement. In other words, offering cash does not mean students will do well, graduate or go on to post-secondary education. The Ontario education council’s program promised cash to students already convinced of the value of education and were already personally invested.

This is instructive as more authorities desperate to keep youth in school look for quick fixes. The Long Plains band near Portage la Prairie in 2008 began paying its teenagers $50 a month to go to school. The University of Winnipeg has what is effectively a scholarship fund to motivate disadvantaged kids interested in the idea of post-secondary education. The Opaskwayak Cree Nation years ago offered students money for every A grade they earned, but stopped after the effects of that quickly fell off.

Money appears to be impotent in coercing under-achievers or struggling students to become successful learners. In this country, kids do not pay for the privilege of going to school. Further, those most at risk typically fall out of love with school very early in their lives. Better to take the precious cash being spent on incentives and invest it in these learners in those critical years.

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