Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What A Great Idea!!

Many news reports claim students in the United States are well below average in academic performance. I recall one report that US students are 35th in the world with respect to math performance, behind most European and some African countries. Yet the US is about 3rd or 4th in spending per student. What is wrong with our educational system? Obviously taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth and our children are being cheated out of a decent education. Some school systems are attacking the problem by throwing more money at it as if the solution is more of the same. Other school systems are trying innovative solutions such as creating school competition (i.e. choice) with mixed results. Most liberal politicians influenced by teacher unions oppose the latter. However, earlier this month a saw a report on GMA on a highly effective experimental program to improve performance in Chicago schools. It’s called “Pay For Performance”. The idea is to “reward” students monetarily for achieving high grades. Funded entirely by private funds, students were given $50 for each A, $35 for each B and $20 for each C. In less than one year the grade point average increased by one grade level. In addition, GMA reported that students and their parents were much more enthusiastic and involved in their education. They actually looked forward to final exams and bragged about how much money they earned. Now I know that there are many opportunities for abuse in this program (i.e. student cheating, teacher bribing etc.) and critics claim this is simply bribing students to do what they should be doing anyway (focus on the money and not on the academics) but I think we need to do something in this country and this experiment deserves further investigation and expansion. Monetary rewards are a tremendous incentive to perform and improve. During my entire career in engineering management we used “pay for performance” to determine annual pay raises. Persons with the highest performance ratings are given the highest raises. Yes there are occasional abuses of the system but by and large the process served us well. Pay for performance is one of the best ideas I’ve heard of to improve the performance of the educational system in the US. I expect that teacher unions and liberal politicians will find fault with this program and try to kill it. To all my readers I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.