Friday, September 09, 2005

Incentives work in the public schools!

The principal of one of the city's most respected public high schools has been ousted for urging parents to lie in order to milk the National School Lunch Program for extra cash. Maurice Collins, the principal of A. Philip Randolph HS in Harlem, also threatened to withhold transportation for children whose parents didn't turn in their school-lunch applications...

Collins sent parents a letter urging them to lie about their wealth on the lunch applications — telling them that doing so would boost the school's budget.

"The lower you estimate your income, the better for the school budget," Collins, 44, wrote in a letter obtained by The Post. "If you work more than one job, only put down the income from one job on the form."

The letter went on to threaten that any student who did not return the form would not get a discounted MetroCard —- a benefit to which every city student is entitled.

"His heart is in the right place in wanting more money for the school ..." said Aida Morales, a parent on the school leadership team...

School-lunch applications are, on their face, used by local and federal governments to determine the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program.

But the forms are also used to calculate poverty rates in school districts, and, therefore, the distribution of billions of dollars in federal aid for everything from teachers and textbooks to telephone bills and Internet wiring.

For this reason, schools in high-poverty areas aggressively urge parents to complete the forms, even offering pizza parties and free tickets to sporting events as incentives.

But education watchdogs said few schools so blatantly push parents to shrug off the form's fine-print warning that "all income is reported"...
[NY Post]
So giving educators financial incentives to get students' families to lie -- and to threaten to punish the unresponsive -- works!

Imagine what the results might be if we gave educators financial incentives to teach more effectively? And students incentives to learn?

Maybe pizza parties for students who improve their reading to grade level, and free tickets to sporting events for teachers who get them there? (Dare one mention the idea of threatening some sort of accountability for teachers who fail to teach and students who won't learn?)

Nah, think how unprofessional all that would be.

It all brings to mind the episode of The Simpsons where Mrs. Crabapple hands out standardized tests while telling the kids, "Remember, the worse you do the more money the school gets, so don't knock yourselves out." It's funny because it's true.