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In Some Schools, Learning Is Not Enough of Its Own Reward

A look at the debate in the U.S. over programs that pay students. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Some American schools pay teachers more if their students improve on tests. Now, there is a growing movement to pay the students -- in some cases, even just for coming to class.

Students at one school in New Mexico can earn up to three hundred dollars a year for good attendance. A program in New York City pays up to five hundred dollars for good attendance and high test scores.

In Baltimore, Maryland, high scores on state graduation tests can be worth more than one hundred dollars. And a New Jersey school system plans to pay students fifty dollars a week to attend after-school tutoring programs.

Schools that pay students can be found in more than one-fourth of the fifty states. Other schools pay students with food or other rewards.

Robert Schaefer is public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, an activist group. He says paying may improve performance in the short term, but students develop false expectations for the future. He sees a lack of long-term planning in these programs because of pressure on schools to raise test scores.

Public schools need to show improvement under the education reform law signed by President Bush six years ago. Low-performing schools may lose their federal money; teachers and administrators may lose their jobs. Often these schools are in poor neighborhoods where getting students to go to school can be a continual problem.

Critics say paying students sends a message that money is the only valuable reward. But some students say it makes school more exciting. And some teachers have reported getting more requests for extra help.

In two thousand four, the city schools in Coshocton, Ohio, launched a program. They wanted to see if paying elementary school students as much as one hundred dollars would help in passing state exams.

Now, Eric Bettinger of Case Western Reserve University has reported mixed results. Math scores increased, but only while students were able to get paid. And there was no evidence of higher scores in reading, social studies and science. Officials will decide later this year whether to continue the program.

Yet adults get paid for their work. And if teachers can be rewarded for their students' work, then why not the students themselves? This is what some people say. What do you think? Write to, and please include your name and country.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.