Why can't learning pay off?
It may seem a bit like bribery. Even a little tacky. But what if it works to hand out $100 to teachers, and their students, each time a...
Seattle Times staff columnist
It may seem a bit like bribery. Even a little tacky.
But what if it works to hand out $100 to teachers, and their students, each time a kid passes an advanced math or science class? What if the lure of cash gets struggling kids to sign up for — and complete — advanced coursework?
Why not try it? Especially if it means you'll get the largest math and science grant ever awarded in this state?
That's what Jennifer Wiley concluded. She's the principal of Seattle's Franklin High School. Like in a lot of schools, the kids there no longer are cutting it in math and science.
Last year 94 of Wiley's 300 sophomores passed the state's math test. Only 34 passed science. That means nearly 90 percent of Franklin's 10th-graders failed the science test or didn't bother to take it.
Anyone can see that's a crisis. So Wiley jumped at a chance to shake Franklin up.
The school was one of seven low-income Washington high schools to get a grant to dramatically expand its Advanced Placement program. The idea is to get all kids to try an AP class, no matter how behind they are. Then support them, relentlessly, with extra tutoring, training and other expensive help.
Now that grant is gone. The foundation that gave it — the corporate National Math and Science Initiative — pulled all $13.2 million out of our state.
It was a union thing. The teachers didn't like the part about the $100 payments. Nor did some like that it was corporate money from the likes of Exxon-Mobil.
"They said no because they felt it was too much like merit pay," a disappointed Wiley said. "What I heard expressed is that in Seattle schools our values are more egalitarian and mutually supportive. They felt this grant would favor some teachers over others."
Hoo boy. Could we possibly be any more politically correct? Or self-defeating?
Yes, money has power. Big private money in public schools isn't a no-brainer. It must be checked, monitored, overseen.
But it seems that in Seattle we irrationally fear it. Here are oodles of dollars to lessen inequality, not exacerbate it. The premise is a no-brainer: To get poor kids into the types of classes that are the norm at the rich schools.
Yet we're turning this down, on principle. Teachers, you could just give away your $100 payments. You could have even stuck it to the man by donating your "merit pay" back to your own union! Anything but this.
Not that it matters now, but this program also happens to work. For the students.
A Cornell University study in 2007 found that Texas high schools with the program, including the $100 payments, saw huge increases in kids both attending and passing the AP classes. There was a 30 percent increase in kids scoring at least 1100 on the SAT.
The payments "changed the culture," the study concluded. Academic rigor, like cash, became king.
We won't be seeing any of this here. Not the millions. Not the big AP program for poor kids. Not the culture-changing message about the importance of academic rigor.
Oh well. Nobody's more egalitarian and mutually supportive, right?
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
email@example.com | 206-464-2086
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.