Friday, September 24, 2004

Merit pay for parents...

I have an unconventional idea that I’d like to get some feedback on.

One of the problems with our struggling education system is a lack of parental support. For a variety of reasons, many parents simply don’t put a strong emphasis on education. This is unfortunate because parents have the potential to wield an enormous amount of power to affect education reform. Teachers, administrators, school boards, and politicians all sit up and listen when parents bring pressure to bear.

So the question I’ve been pondering is: what kind of changes can we make to public policy that will get parents to care? After all, if we can’t make parents care, we’ll always being doing the heavy lifting from the other end—placing a growing burden on our already overwhelmed educators.

One answer I’ve come up with is something I call “merit pay for parents.” We’re all familiar with the arguments for merit pay for teachers: if we stop rewarding endurance and start rewarding excellence, we give teachers an incentive to improve, and along with it a greater sense of worth. So what happens if we take this idea and apply it to parents? Yes, I’m talking about paying parents.

What if we said to a parent, “We’ll give you $1000 if your kid does well on the NAEP test; we’ll give you $2000 if he does great?” I have to believe that an extra grand or two would motivate a parent to make sure his kid does his homework and shows up for school on time and ready to learn. I have to believe that parent would be in the face of teachers and administrators who don’t do their jobs. I have to believe that such a program would be especially motivating to poor, minority, and single parents, who need the that extra money and whose kids typically perform poorly.

If this works, it would introduce greater accountability into the system. And it has a built in efficiency, since no money is paid out until the results are actually achieved—i.e. the buck is proportional to the bang.

Okay, so I know this is an off the wall idea. I also know it has a lot of holes in it. I’m aware of some of them. I’m sure there are a hundred others I haven’t considered. So what are they? Brainstorm for me. Tell me why it would work, and why it won’t. Poke holes it; rip it apart; rethink it; rework it. All feedback is welcome and encouraged.

Update: Welcome to those visiting from Number 2 Pencil (thanks for the link, Kimberly, and congratulations!). You might also be interested in this post, which discusses NCLB, and this post, which does some fact checking on an AFT article on John Kerry's stance on education. I hope you like the blog.

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