Another kind of seat time?

Last year we criticized Roland Fryer’s “pay for performance” programs in part because kids were getting mixed messages about incentives. Should we really pay youngsters for doing things they already should be doing? Better, perhaps, to pay them for doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily dream of doing, such as showing up for tutoring…on a Saturday. That’s what will happen this fall at Houston’s nine lowest-performing middle and high schools. The intent, obviously, is to get struggling pupils to come in for extra help. Students will receive $30 for each three-hour Saturday session, plus free breakfast and lunch. The weekend mornings aren’t official school days, so student participation is voluntary, which is why HISD superintendent Tony Grier figured paying kids “like a job” would help defray the potential economic hardship for those expected to supplement their family income. Grier hopes to cover the $28.5 million yearly price tag with state funds and private grants. The thinking isn’t crazy: No Child Left Behind’s supplemental services tutoring program struggled to get kids to return for more, which is one reason it showed lackluster results. As for whether this program merits the expenditure, maybe there is something to the saying “showing up is half the battle.”

At-Risk Students Learn…and Earn,” by Ericka Mellon, Houston Chronicle, June 3, 2010