Philantrophist Eli Broad had an idea on how to improve school children's test scores: bribe 'em with money!
Here's a controversial pilot educational program called Spark, where children are rewarded with cold hard cash if they do well on tests:
Seventh-graders can earn up to $50 a test -- for 10 assessment tests throughout the year. There's a similar program for fourth-graders. The money goes into a bank account that only the student can access. The better you do, the more money you earn, up to $500 a year for seventh-graders. The idea is to make school tangible for disadvantaged kids -- short-term rewards that are in their long-term best interest.
Is it working? That depends on whom you ask.
Pundits and some in the media say Spark is bribing kids; they should love learning for learning's sake. But if you talk with those actually participating in the pilot program -- the students, administrators and teachers -- you hear something different.
[Eight-grader Soledad Moya] said she wasn't a "studying kind of" person before the awards. Now she and her friends like to look in the dictionary and memorize words and their definitions, and they ask their teachers for more practice tests. Even though she's not eligible for the awards now that she's in eighth grade, she's still studying harder before tests, she said. "Once you get started with something, you keep doing it."
The changes she saw in students like Moya caused Lisa Cullen -- a literacy and social studies teacher at the school -- to go from skeptic to supporter: "I saw how it takes away the uphill battle you have trying to get students to study for tests." She saw a definite increase in students' excitement, enthusiasm and effort.