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Cash for making good grades!  Even a few bucks for making an average grade!  Crazy concept - yes?

But it's about to become reality as part of a new program designed by Harvard University, and now in place in select Chicago Public High Schools, affecting perhaps 5,000 high school freshmen.  Chicago schools are following the lead of public schools in New York City and Washington, begun earlier this year.  The Chicago Plan - "Green for Grade$,"  does not use taxpayer money.  All cash prizes are donated privately.

For years, parents have been rewarding strong grades on report cards with money.  The action by the Chicago Schools seems to "legitimize" this long-time parents' practice.

Under the test program, freshmen would be measured every five weeks in Math, English, Physical Ed, Science, and Social Studies.  Half of the cash would be paid up-front to the qualifying students; the balance at graduation.  Theoretically, a straight-A student could earn as much of $4,000 by the end of his sophomore year.

"The majority of our students don't come from families with a lot of economic wealth. I'm always trying to level the playing field," said Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Arne Duncan. "This is the kind of incentive that middle-class families have had for decades."

Freshman Jeremy Kellum has been getting C grades in most of his classes.  But up to $4,000 in cash incentives, however, might get him to keep his nose to the proverbial grindstone just a little bit more. 

"I do love green money. . . . I'll shoot for A's instead of slacking off, getting by with a C now," Kellum said. "My plan is to study more, to not play in class as much as I did last year, and basically pay attention to the teacher and take good notes and pass tests."

The experimental program starts with High School Freshman because research supports the fact that performance during the first year of High School correlates high with subsequent High School success.  Students are also more prone to dropping out during the first two years of high school.  This is why the cash incentive program ends with sophomore students.

Students who receive a failing grade of F in any of the five core courses will not be eligible for money until they score a C or better in the same class - either the following semester, or in Summer School.

The 20 selected High Schools were chosen via lottery out of 65 that applied.   According to Duncan, at these schools, the "overwhelming majority" of students come from families living below the poverty line.

One parent, Kelly Taylor, a Union Carpenter, out of work for several months due to the struggling economy, praised the program.

"It gives the students something to really shoot for, she already likes school it makes it better for her to meet her goals," Taylor said. "I can't afford to give $50 for every A."

Taylor's daughter, Freshman Amanda Navarro, agrees.  Although her father constantly tells her he's proud of her for getting good grades, she says, the financial incentives offer an added reward.

Stephanie Moore, Principal at Uplift Community High School in the Uptown Neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago, was skeptical with the program at first, contending is was not right to compensate students for the grades they earn.  She softened a bit, however, when she remembered her own financial hardship growing up, as a Chicago Public School student. 

"I thought kids should want to get good grades because it's the right thing to do," Moore said. "Then I saw the kids' enthusiasm and I thought this would be a great incentive for kids who want to do the right thing, who don't want to be on the streets."

See Carlos Sadovi's article in today's Chicago Tribune for more details.


Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2008 8:01 PM by Dean's Team


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