Weird Policy Proposal: The A-Tax-Rebate



Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

Related Post Roulette

50 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    FWIW a few problems come quickly to mind.

    Once you get to High School the work is beyond many parents knowledge base either because the parents weren’t good students themselves, its been years since they were in school or things are taught differently.

    Poor people need to pay their bills each month. They can’t afford to take off work to get a rebate in a few months.

    Not all kids are A students. For some a C is a good grade. Some kids have learning disabilities which make it hard for them to achieve high grades but they still desperately need parental involvement.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to greginak says:

      Once you get to High School the work is beyond many parents knowledge base either because the parents weren’t good students themselves, its been years since they were in school or things are taught differently.

      All this means is that parental involvement is not everything. To the degree that parental involvement matters, incentivising it via tax rebates seems a good idea.

      Poor people need to pay their bills each month. They can’t afford to take off work to get a rebate in a few months.

      There is a limit, but I’m sure that there is a significant proportion of the lower income groups who are able to cut down their working hours by half an hour to an hour in response to the rebate.

      Not all kids are A students. For some a C is a good grade. Some kids have learning disabilities which make it hard for them to achieve high grades but they still desperately need parental involvement.

      Again, there is a limit to the efficacy. Certainly such measures will not be the only measures taken, but it seems that it should play a part.Report

  2. Avatar Ryan Davidson says:

    Are you kidding? Grades are pretty much meaningless. With the exception of math, they’re also mostly subjective, unless you count multiple choice as objective. I have my doubts. All this would result in is a massive amount of pressure on teachers to hand out more A grades.

    This is a horrible, horrible idea.Report

    • Avatar Matty in reply to Ryan Davidson says:

      Grades are pretty much meaningless.

      If you’re right, and I suspect you are, this is a knife that cuts both ways. If higher grades would not indicate better students then low grades currently don’t indicate bad students so it would appear there is no problem to solve.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Apologizing in advance for being snarkier than is warranted, as I fully recognized this is a well-intentioned proposal to a real problem…BUT…

    This just seems to take the idea of “teaching to the test” and exporting it home. Call it “parenting to the test”. Of course, I don’t really have a better idea.

    One thought: what if we allowed parents to have children attend schools in the districts they work in? This might encourage folks to take jobs in “better” parts of town, which might be better career opportunities long term (this is PURE speculation on my part but it seems to make sense). Parents can commute with their children, which means more time together. Parents are closer to the schools during the workdays, possibly increasing their access to the school environment. Parents are more integrated into the school environment, as they now work and have their children in that community. And as unseemly as this feels to think and say, I wonder if the cycle-of-poverty is somewhat the result of folks never really knowing or experiencing anything different or better. I know some poor folks who have barely ever left their neighborhood; perhaps you give them a vision into the better lives possible for the, and their children and it serves as motivation to achieve them.

    This is far from perfect… Inevitably some snot-nosed punk will target one of these kids to remind him that Poor-Kid’s mom cleans Snot-Nose’s dishes… But snot-nosed punks are an unfortunate reality of school and life. Parent work schedules might not sync up with school schedules, but this isn’t a problem unique to this proposal and can be somewhat alleviated with robust before- and after-school programs.


    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy says:

      It’s a unique approach, although I suspect that the logistics & funding would be tricky.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Most surely. This was very much a half-baked idea. Thinking more about funding, you could justify it with the higher property taxes the businesses in nicer areas pay. But, yea, not a perfect suggestion, but I think something worth exploring at least in theory, no?Report

  4. Avatar Roger says:

    I find it intrusive and suspect it will lead to distortions of gradesReport

  5. Avatar North says:

    Cynically I suspect this system would lead to parent investing more time in their kids grades but that this investment would come in the form of barraging teachers and principles with appeals/complaints to “adjust” childrens grades.Report

  6. Avatar Wonkie says:

    Even if a child gets straight A’s the rebate will not enable the parent to work fewer hours. I don’t thikyou are recognizing how marginal many working American families are. The rebate might get the car fixed or pay for Christmas or help pay toward a medical bill (because this family probably can’t afford insurance,) but it isn’t going to get the one hard working over stressed tired out parent who is only making a little above the minimum wage the chance to cut back hours.Report

  7. Avatar Rod says:

    I’ll give you points for thinking outside the box. And there have been experiments which I believe show that paying kids to study can actually improve performance, so taking an economic approach isn’t unwarranted.

    But really, everything I’ve seen suggests that crappy communities produce both crappy schools and crappy students. If we’re not willing or able to address that root cause then no clever innovations are going to make more than a marginal difference.Report

  8. Avatar Lyle says:

    Actually the proposal follows the market is the solution to all problems meme: There have been other proposals to pay students for grades (other than by parents which has been around a long time). I wonder at the opponents because that is the way the world works in the US. IN adult society money is regarded by many as the only motivator. Since that is the case in adult society, why not teach the children early how the world works?Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Lyle says:

      if we wanted to do that, ought to just cancel the child labor laws and get the kids working early. be less of this fuss about “education” and more about work product.Report

  9. Avatar Wonkie says:

    There’s a lot of crap talked about restoring family values and supporting families etc which mostly means hating gay people, but the question of how to really support families in their efforts to raise their kids is worth asking. And, yes, increasing the time a parent has available for parenting is right there at the top of the list. However offering an incentive sort of implies tha the parent has the time. but not the interest, when the problem quite often is that the parent has the interest and not the time.
    So how to make the time? How about an increase in the minimum wage? There are folks out there working more than forty hours a week because they can’t make enough t live on in less hours than that. Or how about supporting unions so that unions can advocate for higher wages and benefits? The more money a parent makes and the more benefits the parents receives, the more flexiblity that parent will have interms of allocation of time. Antoher problem is the time spent commuting. In the area where I live the cheaper rents are farther out of town which creates a dilemna for low income working people. The trade off is cheap rent but more spent on gas and car, and of course more time spent coming and going from work. On the other hand living without a car means spending a godawful amount of time on simple things like grocery shopping by bus. So federal funds to support cheap fast mass transit? Or funds for affordable housing in the vacinity of concentrations of low paying jobs ( like walking distance from Walmart, that great concentrator of low paying jobs.)?

    This is all just brainstorming, of course. Anyway I think your point that parents need time for parenting is valid.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Wonkie says:

      Fix the problem: you shouldn’t need to take a bus to go to the grocery store. 3 miles (each way!) is a decent distance, particularly if you can send kids out to buy milk.Report

  10. Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

    I’ve often wondered what the effect of a few thousand bucks in an account would do if receiving it was contingent upon high school graduation + passing a statewide exit exam. It seems like it shouldn’t be too hard to motivate a lot of borderline students to stick it out and learn the basics. I suppose it depends on the time horizon. Anything that’s 4 years away is probably meaningless to the type of kid I’m worried about. But it shouldn’t take that much money to motivate a teenager–especially when you consider how much education costs in general. A lot of kids don’t seem to get the connection between working hard and earning money until it’s too late.

    As for involving the parents, I wonder if behavior problems would change if teachers had the power to fine parents for their kids’ misbehavior. If your middle schooler keeps bringing home $10 fines for disrupting class, you might be more inclined to care that his behavior is an issue. Disruptive kids are very costly to the process.

    Then again, I was a motivated student and I’ve never raised a child, so I really don’t know what I’m talking about here.Report

  11. Avatar Remo says:

    Problems in advance:

    You are suddenly shifting focus on who brings home the money – you will shift focus on a lot of responsabilities inside a low-income house.

    You can have parents slaving their own children to earn their income. If you consider that a student could bring U$ 2800 home for getting As in 4 classes, and that many parents have a hard time reaching that amount of money on their jobs, it seems a possibility.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Remo says:

      You can have parents slaving their own children to earn their income. If you consider that a student could bring U$ 2800 home for getting As in 4 classes, and that many parents have a hard time reaching that amount of money on their jobs, it seems a possibility

      This is kind of the point right? Its not unjustified coercion when parents tell their children to eat their brocolli, do their homework or clea their room. And making inner city parents just abit more tiger-mom-ish would be to the benefit of their children right?Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Murali says:

        Turning education into child labor is probably a bad idea, though. Especially when, as minors, the money is technically their parents.Report

  12. Avatar Katherine says:

    Echoing a problem brought up by many previous posters – In developing countries that have created programs where students are paid for good academic performance, cheating (esp. in the form of bribing teachers for grades) is rife.Report

  13. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    We know that teachers already cheat and while it isn’t all that hard to catch them a policy like this will only increase the pressure on them to do so.

    I understand and like the intent behind the policy idea: that there are some parents who don’t seem to put any kind of premium or importance on their childrens’ education; consequently, the children don’t see a need to become educated. Incentivize the parents with tax credits, and more kids will learn more stuff and the nation and a whole will become better educated. I totally get that.

    But at the risk of sounding, well, bigoted — among the class of parents who don’t seem to put any kind of premium or importance on their childrens’ education, how many of them pay enough taxes in the first place for these credits to make any difference to them?Report

  14. Avatar Kris says:

    You could try it in a school or two, and expand if succesful.

    Here are the potential probelms that I can see:

    1. Parents will do the homework or pay to have it done to profit.

    2. Many of the poor aren’t particularly well motivated by financial bonuses. They’re mentally exhausted by the effort of just getting by. They are aware their are good financial incentives to having their kids succeed already, so a few hundred bucks incentive changes nothing.

    3. Abusive parents of large households could become pretty awful with their kids just to get the cash. That’s a big moral hazard.

    4. There are programs to pay kids to read. The worry with these programs is that its not clear what happens when the pay disappears. Will they still read? The goal of education is to get kids to want to learn. Its not clear what values they’ll take away from this policy. They’re supposed to learn education is intrinsically good.

    5. Students disappointing their parents by costing them cash may be a bridge too far psychologically for teenagers and younger kids. I can only imagine the therapy I’d need if I had found out my mom missed a mortgage payment because I didn’t get an A.

    6. In general, incentives to motivate people like this don’t work that well in the long term. Pay for performance plans don’t work well unless they’re really well designed, which is easier said than done. This Rand study says they are “promising” but rarely proven effective, IMO:

    7. The problem isn’t that the poor aren’t incentivized to have their kids do well. They want their kids to succeed. The problem is that the environment they live in makes that difficult to do on average. So we need to solve poverty, not just incentivize people into stop acting like poor people. The latter would be too easy a solution, when you think about it. Why not offer people 100 bucks not to use drugs or 50 bucks to take courses at community college, or 20 bucks to eat healthy, etc.Report

  15. Avatar A Teacher says:

    You can’t pay for grades. Grades are not about money. School is not about “what do I need to know to get an A on the test?”

    If education is nothing more than figuring out how to get an A on an exam, then you need to stop talking about education reform and leave those conversations to people with a clue what education is.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to A Teacher says:

      It irritates me when people go all “education for education’s sake and the edification of the human being” on me.

      The ultimate reason people go to school can vary from person to person. It is illiberal to impose a perfectionist account of the purpose of schooling on everyone. Rather then, we can say that at the very least, schools are there to impart a certain body of knowledge and some set of skills. Some of these are all purpose stuff for basic citizenship and others may be more vocationally related stuff, and others may simply be a matter of personal interest. I don’t care. The school system can afford to offer everyone a reasonable chance to learn what they want as well as what they need (if there is any such thing).

      For almost any specific body of knowledge or set of skills, an examination can be designed to do a reasonable job of testing whether a person has acquired said body of knowledge or said skillset. Is testing perfect? no. Can examinations do a reasonable job of assessing a student’s competence in the area? Yes. Also this is not merely a theoretical proposition. I’ve sat for tests which have tested my knowledge and competence. In fact most of the tests which I sat for did a reasonable job at this. In fact, the only tests that I found ridiculously easy were my driving theory test and the SAT1 and SAT2 tests. That American standardised tests were ridiculously bad is not a problem with standardised testing. It is a problem with American standardised tests. The GCE system is (from personal experience) in fact fairly reasonable. At least it was in my time. From reports that I have heard the International Baccalaureate may be better.

      Because, really, given a reasonable examination, in trying to figure out how to get an A, I will pick up the body of knowledge and sets of skills that the school wanted to impart to me.Report

      • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Murali says:

        Let me ask you this:

        Who do you trust to advise you on a medical condition? A doctor who has studied medicine extensively, seen multiple cases such as yours and interacts regularly with other related fields? Or someone who has had your condition once?

        Testing is inherently flawed for assessing student achievement.

        Emphasis on testing diminishes the goals of education.

        Attempts to write public policy without recognizing the flaws in other nation’s programs undermines good education. (For example, most of the countries we point at as models of education also do not attempt to educate all students at the same level.)

        Paying for a grade makes the grade the only goal, not understanding.

        Look. I’ve got piles of case studies I can troop out of students who got A’s in a class and didn’t learn a rotten thing about the content. They learned exactly what they needed for a given standardized test. They did not learn how to apply those skills beyond that unit. They didn’t learn to UNDERSTAND anything, only how to rotely repeated what was needed to ace the test.

        You can look down your nose at “education for education’s sake” but that’s not what I’m saying at all. Education is about learning how to learn as much as it is learning. It’s about understanding your own mind and what motivates, drives and orgainzes it as much as it understanding the root causes of the Civil War.

        There are no good tests that objectively test understanding across curriculum because those kinds of ideas require extensive work to assess. You can’t run that test through a scantron machine and it costs millions to pay people to grade them. Trusting teachers to it, is a) foolish and b) insulting given that we’ve already got a million things to do.

        Your idea is a bad one. At best it won’t motivate kids to do better, at worst it will do even more damage to our failing experiment in using testing to drive educational reform.

        And yes, testing is destroying education. It’s not about holding teacher’s accountable. That’s the buzz word that the parties use because no one gives a rat’s ass about understanding education. They all went to school so they all know it sucks and it’s safe for both sides to shout “Accountability” keep people quiet.

        But what testing is doing is that it’s removing incentive to understand. It’s all just what’s on the next test. Forget projects, forget exploration, forget building your own knowledge. The teachers who are rewarded today are the ones that put up sample test questions and coach students on how to pick out answers.

        When Burt posts that he only files briefs for court by marking of multiple choice options I’ll happily recant this response.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to A Teacher says:

          Forget projects, forget exploration, forget building your own knowledge

          Only, the thing is, students can and do have research projects for which they are graded and which contributes to university admission. But maybe project work as part of standardised tests makes a mockery of project work. What do you expect us to do then? send our kids to school and just grade them on their daily schoolwork? Or maybe do away with grading altogether. Just leave everything to teacher’s testimonials about how well the student has really learned how to learn. How else do you plan to asses student performance?

          Also, tests need not be multiple choice tests. Tests with open ended and even essay questions can still be set and marked with reasonable levels of objectivity. Spending millions to pay people to mark those tests is a fishing bargain. Your national debt is on the order of trillions of dollars.

          I’m not saying that tests are pefect, or that everyone who aces a test knows his stuff. But it is certainly the case that someone who aced the test can answer the questions that were on that test. What makes us think that he only happenned to know the answers to that particular set of questions? That seems rather improbable right? (Unless the teacher revealed which questions were coming out) If you only know a very small fraction of your material, what is the probability that the questions that come out only test the things you know?

          Is it possible to design questions that test understanding? certainly. How would we ordinarily test understanding? by asking questions that require students to put together disparate pieces of information. Can we ask such questions in a test? I dont see why not.

          Sure, multiple choice tests are easy to game. Open ended tests are less so. Even when teachers provide sample questions for such tests, Students in learning how to answer that particular question still end up learning some part of the subject matter.

          It’s about understanding your own mind and what motivates, drives and orgainzes it as much as it understanding the root causes of the Civil War.

          Really? People like to say these grandiose sounding things but its not clear that such is obviously the case.

          Even so, it was through tests that I learned how my mind works and the learning style that best suited me. Fine, so that’s a 1 person data point and rather meaningless. Maybe I’m an oddball. But nothing you’ve said gives me any reason to think that testing detracts from us understanding our own minds (if we in fact do undersand our minds*).

          *It seems to me that understanding the way your mind works in any substantive sense is a bit too much for most people to achieve in their lifetimes. After all, this is the stuff of which psychology and enlightenment are made of.Report

          • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Murali says:

            Except I do it for a living.

            What do you do again?Report

          • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Murali says:

            Let me add to my snark above.

            Testing has a place.

            But the testing you’re talking about, essays, graded projects, open ended questions, etc. Those cannot be done in a standardized format with objective graders. If it were SOOOOOO easy as the non-education world would like to think, why do you think the ACT is ~still~ all multiple choice?

            Because it’s nearly impossible to expend the resources needed to provide open ended questions to every college bound junior nationwide.

            You want to fix education by offering kids Cash for Grades. That means that if the tax payers are doling out the money the tax payers are going to want to know where those grades came from. And that means some kind of nationally administered test.

            Or do really think this nation will do a total 180 on it’s hatred of educators and entrust us with the deciding of who gets A and $700 and who doesn’t?

            So either you want teachers to keep grading like we do but now add the pressure of parents demanding A’s for their kids because money is on the line, or you want more nationally managed and graded assesments to “keep it fair” and away from those “do nothing” teachers.

            Neither will work.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to A Teacher says:

              But the testing you’re talking about, essays, graded projects, open ended questions, etc. Those cannot be done in a standardized format with objective graders. If it were SOOOOOO easy as the non-education world would like to think, why do you think the ACT is ~still~ all multiple choice?

              Because a lot of Americans are amazingly and blindingly parochial. There are already established examination procedures and papers aimed at pre-university students, the GCE A levels and the IB. Both organisations actually work with participating countries to set exam questions to fit the participating country’s syllabus. Papers can also be sent over there for marking. Sure, you are a teacher and I respect that you have got experience. But if you tell me that setting a certain kind of exam is impossible when there are two examples of such exams already being administered almost everywhere else in the world except the US, its kind of like americans saying that Any kind of Single payer system is impossible when in fact many countries have at least some single payer component to their healthcare system.

              But no. try suggesting that other countries have workable examination systems and if you don’t get things like:

              “We didn’t fight the Revolution in order to adopt those Limey’s education system”

              “You want us to adopt the same system as those Euroweenie’s?”

              i.e. there is blatant jingoism and parochialism.

              The slightly more thoughtful will say

              “most of the countries we point at as models of education also do not attempt to educate all students at the same level”

              But this is a red herring. We are specifically talking about a test. Pre-university students in the US already sit for the ACTs and therefore are already supposed to have acquired some body of knowledge and skills. Without even changing that syllabus, we could design an open ended test that would do a better job of testing the required body of knowledge than the ACTs.

              Saying that other countries do not try to prepare all students for university may explain why the american syllabus looks rather thin, but it doesn’t have anything to do with why american standardised tests are all multiple-choice.

              Maybe for the size of the american cohort, sending all the papers to the UK for marking is not feasible. But there are plenty of college graduates who are looking for a job. Well, here is one. Marking an exam paper doesn’t require much expertise. All it requires is patience and a standardised answer key. College grads are eminently capable of doing the job.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Murali says:

                Wow. Can I come pick money off your money tree?

                So we’re going to pay a family 700*6= $4200/ yr ~and~ we’re going to pay for every test to be hand graded?

                Okay let’s play.

                In 2008 there were 55 million students enrolled nationwide. Let’s assume two tests per subject per year, and six subjects. So that translates to: 660 million exams.

                Now you want to have these graded by college graduates. What’s a fair wage for that? Assuming by your reference that they’ll be doing this as a needed job out of college, ie to pay the bills, let’s give them $20/ hour.

                Have you ever graded an essay exam? Have you ever parsed open ended questions. How long do you think it will take? I have. I can tell you. But since I’m a teacher and I don’t know a danged thing about education let’s just make 15 minutes per test. So, that translates to $5 per test.

                Your humble little proposal will cost:
                $3.3 billion dollars

                And if we decide we want them to work for just $10/ hour, we can cut that down to $1.6 billion. Billion. With a B.

                Oh wait… we’re PAYING these people to get the A’s. Now being fair a lot of those kids aren’t going to be trying to get A’s so let’s assume that a third of the kids nationwide qualify for this program.

                So, 1/3 of school population, 6 classes a year:
                77 billion on tax credits, rounded up.

                So, all told, your plan will cost:

                80 billion dollars.

                Oh what if we only do HS, the top 1/4th of the grades. Okay. 20 BILLION dollars.

                You know why your idea is crap? Because they won’t spend 20 billion dollars on tests. They won’t spend 20 billion on rewarding kids with good grades. We’ve got public school teachers who have to bring Toilet Paper to work for their classrooms and those classrooms are averaging 40 kids per class. And you want to blow 20 billion on Test Grading.

                You know what your ivory tower bull crap vision misses? That this kind of plan won’t get funding. It won’t get support. It’ll get handed to teachers who already put in 12 hour days, already spend their own money on their classrooms and we’ll be told:

                You will give these tests.

                You will grade these tests.

                Your district will pay to have your grading audited – translation you’re going to get a pay/benefits cut. Why? Because that’s what they’ve been doing every time there’s a mandate for the last 10 years. If you were teacher you’d know that.

                You will get every kid to a B. We don’t care how.

                You will be blamed for those who do not.

                Honestly, I’d love to see a few more of you tell Sanders how to diagnose childhood disease or Litko how to file a brief for all everyone wants to fix public education.

                You’re no better then the asshats having comittee hearings on women’s health without a single woman in the room.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to A Teacher says:

                Finally! This is the argument we should have been having, not the pablum about testing ruining education. If the program will really be too expensive and the returns are too uncertain for the cost, then I will happily concede that the proposal is impractical.

                Well, I was only thinking of testing 1/4 of the grades in the first place. 1 set of exams for leaving elementary school, one for middle school and one for high school.

                So 1/4 of 77 billion is 19.25 billion.

                Let’s also say that I am going to means test the whole program. The maximum payout is paid to lower income households while middle and upper income households receive far less or even nothing. So, all told I only need to pay out 6 billion at most. Of lower income students, the proportion of students who receive ‘A’s is much lower. But I will also be paying a significant amount to students who get ‘B’s. Let me be generous and say that we will end up paying somewhere between 1-4 billion dollars. This is still fairly high, but nowhere near as sary as the 20 billion figure.

                Let’s look at the test administration aspect again. Let’s look at the $20/hr rate again. Since they will only 1/4 of the students will be taking exams, the total will come to 800 million, which is in and of itself a reasonable amount to spend on test reform. If we use the $10/hr rate we do it for 400 million per year

                So, all told, test reform is probably worth it while paying parents for student performance is more iffy. What if we reduced the payout per grade? How much can we reduce the payout untill the number stops looking so scary? How much effect will such a lower payout have on the results?Report

              • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Murali says:

                Continued problems just looking at pay out as an issue and ignoring that testing IS ruining our educational system….

                Your idea of means testing won’t go far in our current political climate given that we can’t pass a tax cut for 99% of people without the top 1% going batcrap crazy. Good luck passing that.

                We should also consider the potential for personal liability against Teachers as a real option. My kid gets a B on the test because Ms. Robins can’t manage her classroom and my kid struggles. Ms. Robbins justcost my family a few grand in tax credit. That’s a nice small claims case.

                My kid gets all C’s at a school that has issues with, something. Doesn’t matter. Again, we’re out a few thousand in tax credits.

                Our Current Culture of Education Does Not Blame Students It Blames Schools and Teachers.

                Frankly I hate the idea you’ve proposed because I know what it will be like at work. It will be 10 times worse than it is now because of how much money I’m costing needy families.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to A Teacher says:

                Your idea of means testing won’t go far in our current political climate given that we can’t pass a tax cut for 99% of people without the top 1% going batcrap crazy. Good luck passing that

                I’m ignoring political viability here. The kinds of things that are in fact politically viable often have little relation to efficacy, efficiency or justice.

                I’m not saying that my idea would necessarily have been any of the above. The point about costs was well taken. But if we had tried it out in a small scale and it had worked, scaling it would have been a good idea and the fact that it is not politically viable would have ben a downright shame. And not strictly speaking, a proble with the policy itself.

                We should also consider the potential for personal liability against Teachers as a real option. My kid gets a B on the test because Ms. Robins can’t manage her classroom and my kid struggles. Ms. Robbins justcost my family a few grand in tax credit. That’s a nice small claims case.

                My kid gets all C’s at a school that has issues with, something. Doesn’t matter. Again, we’re out a few thousand in tax credits.

                Would you have been on board with the idea if I added provisions that protected teachers from any civil liability for loss of money?

                Your point is taken about parents wanting to blame teachers for everything. I come from a country where teachers are probably better respected than in the US, so I probably don’t appreciate the full gamut of problems you face.

                Of course paying teachers more in line with what they are paid in other OECD countries will also be good.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher in reply to A Teacher says:

                Any country probably treats teachers better than the US.

                I didn’t used to think that. I worked for 12 years before I started to really see just how low the respect ran. When I started having people tell me I’d be dragged into civil court, and administrators agreed with them, for low grades, that’s when I started to get it.

                Yes, if you promised civil protection for teachers I’d be less offended by the idea.

                However. HOWEVER.

                Education isn’t about facts. It can’t be. It can’t be about test prep. It just can’t be.

                The idea you’re proposing, at the core: Grades = Payment… that turns education into “nothing but grades matter”. And trust me I’ve watched the last 14 years of education, from the inside. I’ve watched the decline.

                When I started teaching here’s what I heard at Parent Teacher Conferences:

                “I don’t care about grades, is my kid getting the material?
                “I want her to like science.”
                “What can I do to help you; he should be doing better.”

                Now here’s what I hear:

                “What are you doing to get his grade up?”
                “What can he do to get a B? Extra Credit, clean your room?” (Note, not what can he do to learn the material).
                “Why didn’t you email me sooner? I know the grades are posted but I don’t have time to check.”

                Telling parents that as part of a national policy we’re going to reward kids who get A’s, we’re just saying once again that what matters is only the end result on a standardized test. And somehow this might drive parental involvement.

                Counter proposal:

                Once a year schools issue parental report cards. These report cards are used on a “best 2 of 3” basis, so that starting with 3rd grade, every family that gets a B or higher gets a flat $1,000 tax credit. These will be grades given by the school staff, with a random sampling of 4 out of 6 teachers (in Middle and Highschool) and a grade level committee for Elementary.

                With this a family can have an off year, and not count against them (best 2 of 3 so the worst is always dropped). It will be work for teachers, but it will actually reward what you want: Involvement.

                Your proposal does not reward involvement. I don’t have to a lick of work to go to my kid’s room and tell him if he doesn’t get an A he doesn’t get new school clothes. There, I’m involved. And given my kid’s memory and interest levels (granted he’s only 4) I’m pretty sure I’ll be making bank on this plan if it were to happen without doing a danged thing.

                If you want to see more involvement, reward involvement.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to A Teacher says:

                our educational system was never designed to educate. at least not before college/gradschool. It was designed to create well-behaved citizens who would work in factories.

                New era, new tools?Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Murali says:

            a better test for half a dozen mathematical concepts would be a good strategic video game. Do better than the computer — any way you can. Outbuild it, outfight it, outorganize it.
            and leave it low difficulty… leaves more options for the kids.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Murali says:

        schools are there to put obstacles in the path of capable students who might revolutionize the world. Too often they teach outdated nonsense, that forces students to bend their minds into frameworks that are incompatible with Real Live (continuous mathematics, anyone? — we live in a discrete world, and that’s the LAST thing they teach!)

        I got A’s in English throughout high school. You may draw your own conclusions, but I’m far from a good writer.

        And I’m worse at math than the kid who failed algebra 4 times straight.Report

  16. Avatar Glyph says:

    Murali et al,

    I like this attempt to think out of the box. Though I think A Teacher could cool off just a bit maybe, this is just spitballing, to his/her point, I agree cost is a huge question…no matter what, this is gonna cost a bundle, and it has to come from somewhere.

    I notice some of the commenters seem to think that the grades for which the families are being compensated are being assigned by the school/teachers, but I took Murali’s post to indicate that the standardized tests that drive the process would be separated from the school/teachers entirely and administered by a presumably-neutral third party.

    Assuming such a party could be found, would that alleviate any of the concerns about cheating and pressuring teachers to inflate grades etc.? So long as a good barrier can be erected between the teachers and the testers I could maybe see this working. Not sure how realistic this is.

    Also, again I know cost is a factor, but why limit the incentive to the student/student’s family? For every A, some money should also go to the school & teachers, to incentivize them as well. Maybe if it means a bonus for them at the year-end a teacher will stick around 5 extra minutes, or be motivated to really look out there at the literature to see what they could be doing better.

    Again, a solid barrier between the schools/teachers and the testers has to exist for this to work, the teachers can’t just be awarding themselves, and I don’t really want it in the school’s hands either (too much potential for it to be wielded against the teachers by unfriendly administrators), it needs to be an independent neutral party making the disbursements. If the school accumulates enough cash this way, it can buy better equipment, books, hire more/better teachers or pay the extant ones more, whatever – so success breeds success.

    Again, this was just spitballing, but I like Murali’s attempt to look at the issue a different way and am sorry it seems so many people are reflexively down on it. Maybe it really is an intractable issue.

    I am starting to wonder, only half-jokingly, if my kids need to go to school at all, if they have any tendencies toward autodidactism; in the last 20 years the internet has become the ultimate classroom, and I don’t see that trend slowing. People probably learn more here in a week arguing in comments, than they did in a semester of high school.

    Maybe schools as we know them are heading the way of the newspapers. Maybe we’d be better off just making sure every poor family has an iPad and accessible wifi; the modern equivalent to giving someone a fishing pole so they can feed themselves.Report

    • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Glyph says:

      I get very frustrated very quickly because these policies are suggested by people who haven’t studied education or worked in the classroom.

      This is, honestly, no different then telling a doctor how to run his practice, how he should be judged, and how he should prescribe medication because, hey, you’ve been to the doctor’s a few times, and you’re pretty smart. You know how it works.

      The reason that education has continued its death spiral is that, yes, we had some overly lax attempts to fix it back in the 70’s that failed by letting teachers do too little, and ignore too many. Trust me, the pendulum has swung well to the other side.

      The culture of Test Test Test does not work in American Schools. If we’re going to shift to a culture of Test Test Test like Europe and Asia, then we also need to culturally shift our entire stance on education. If we’re going to test like them, how about we pay and repsect teachers like they do?

      Right now if a Kid has a D the common responses are:
      a) Teacher, please work with my kid more.
      b) Teacher, please don’t grade so hard.
      c) Teacher, stop kicking my kid out of class for misbehaving; that’s why he’s not learning
      d) Teacher, my kid must have a learning disability- make his tests easier
      e) Teacher, why didn’t you call me the minute it dropped below a B?
      f) Teacher, when can we have a meeting to discuss why you hate my kid? By the way I want to see the grades of all other minority students in your class.
      g) Parent, please be more involved. Maybe by calling the teacher and referring to a-f

      Adding MORE testing to our current system Will. Not. Work.

      You want more testing? Fine. Double teacher pay, and put some pressure back on parents to take responsibility for their kids. Make them liable for not following school policies just as teachers are personally liable for not following IEPs. (Yes, I can be taken into civil court as an individual).Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to A Teacher says:

        Only I have worked in a classroom. I have done supplementary teaching for brighter and well to do kids as well as additional tutoring and mentoring for students from broken homes. Now, I don’t have a degree in education and pedagogy, but I am not a complete stranger to teaching children. Or for that matter, setting questions. I have edited and amended assesment books.Report

  17. Avatar Glyph says:

    A Teacher, thanks for the response, and I am sure it is frustrating. And I agree that responsibility for a child’s education ultimately lies with the parents (unless, of course, they choose to exercise that responsibility by moving their children to a better district or to private schools or what have you – then they are of course shirking their responsibilities to the rest of us – that is general snark, in case that’s not clear, though not directed at you).

    But I still don’t understand how doubling teacher pay upfront incentivizes improvements the way that tying some bonus pay to performance does, so long as that performance is determined by a disinterested 3rd party (I am almost thinking that this party functions like a ratings agency like Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s; like these, it’s not that this 3rd party can never be gamed, but their reputation should be distinct from the schools’ so they have an incentive to stay neutral/impartial).

    I mean, as far as I can tell, your alternate plan consists of:

    1.) Pay the extant teachers more and respect them more.
    2.) ?
    3.) Profit! (Or in this case, ‘Better education for all’!)

    I realize this comes across as snarky – sorry for that, I do think you have made some cogent points, particularly with regard to cost. But as wacky as Murali’s proposal might be, I am not seeing much in the way of alternatives, barring a massive culture change.Report

    • Avatar A Teacher in reply to Glyph says:

      Well, I’ll be honest I’m not working hard to come up with a counter proposal because, frankly this is the conversation I feel like we’re having:

      Xander: Dad I want to go to the moon!
      Me: That will take a lot of time and money to build a rocket. No.
      Xander: But I wannawannawanna!
      Me: No. Really, you can’t just GO to the moon.
      Xander: But I can build the rocket in the back yard.
      Me: There is not enough room in the back yard for a spaceworthy rocket. No.
      Xander: Dad, why aren’t you taking my request to go to the moon seriously? All you do is say no!

      Now, to the double pay. That is really a throwaway comment that is as much hyperbole as I, being honest, take the idea of government paying for grades would be. But, let’s disect it:

      American society respects and listens to people who make a lot of money. We flock to sports stars. We stop and listen to doctors. Tell someone you’re lawyer and either they’ll hate you, or they’ll think you’re bloody brilliant.

      Teachers already go through incredible educational hoops to get where we are. The staff I work with is almost entirly made up people with master’s degrees in education. We have to continue to acquire education throughout our careers.

      Yet, when it comes time to talk about policy, teachers are the last people consulted. Oh we talk to “teaching specialists” who rarely have been in the class room for the last 10 years. We talk to people who have PhD’s in educational theory but haven’t actually stood in front of a class once.

      When schools fail, we assume it’s the teachers. We assume it’s a flaw in the system.

      I, sincerely, believe that it is because teaching is viewed as a bottom of the middle class “Fall Back” job. “I wanted to be a poet, but I couldn’t so now I teach.” “I wanted to be a lawyer but law school was too hard to get into; I teach history.” The view is horrifically unfair as NO one in my department wanted to do something else but be a teacher. I honstly can’t say that for my entire school.

      But if we paid teachers just twice as much as we do now, it would seen as the go to job. “I want to be a teacher, have you seen what they make?” And as a Go-To Job we’d completley lose the stigma of “those who can’t, teach”.

      Sure we’d have an influx of lousy teachers. People who just got into it for the money and realized, Holy Chalk Boards Batman! This is Hard! And then quit. And when they quit and started to say “I tried to be a teacher, but wow. Those kids ate me alive, I’ve got teeth marks on my backside, still!”

      And when that shift happens we’d start to move back to the kind of situations where when parent and teacher sit down to talk about why Johny can’t read, the first thing that happens won’t be “Teacher: Teach better!” Why? Because the assumption will be that this teacher IS doing the kind of job she’s supposed to be doing, rather than the other way around. As long as we keep pushing the blame for education onto people who are scraping by trying to make ends meet, we’re not going to see any real change.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Glyph says:

      we pay WALL STREET tons.
      Lost a lot of good mathematicians and physicists to wall street because of it. They could be building a better mousetrap — or battery, or renewable energy system.
      Instead? creating more and more risky investments, or finding new ways to screw “red car buying” people out of car insurance money.

      People work where the money is — or at least a lot of foolz do.Report