Public education is struggling in so many ways today. Schools are scrambling to determine a new course of action as test scores decline. The problem is not isolated - it's universal. It strikes the urban centers and it strikes southeast Missouri equally.
Into this heated debate over education reforms comes the Kansas City school district who this week proposed financial incentives for students to raise test scores. Paying for grades is not necessarily a new idea. But a quarter-million dollar plan to reward students has generated abundant heat. The debate is far from over.
Kansas City school officials want to pay up to $80 for superior scores on standardized student tests. The schools already spend nearly a half-million dollars to reward students for summer school attendance. This pay for performance plan however has drawn sharp opposition.
Some members of the community and the state legislature are hot under the collar on the rewards program. The idea surfaced in a tight budget year and that alone has generated criticism.
The plan, of course, is a last desperate attempt by one school district to raise test scores. All other motivation plans have met with lukewarm response and still test scores lag behind the state averages. The same could be said of many districts in our region of the state as well. So when school officials get desperate for improvement, radical ideas surface. Paying for student performance is just that - a radical idea that may or may not improve scores. I for one doubt if the plan will help the chronic under-achievers. And for those already scoring at the higher levels, this plan will just be a bonus.
It seems that everyone in education is concerned about the bottom rung of the educational ladder. The top rung gets lost because all of the emphasis is on the lowest level. The battleground in some ways is for those students near the lower middle, who stand some chance of improving. But all efforts to raise those students has proven ineffective.
When test scores decline, schools have only two options, in my opinion. First, they try every effort under the sun to raise the overall average. If those efforts fail - as they have - then many within the education community seek to change the rules of the game. Underachievers are isolated or the rules of the tests are changed. The end result remains a mediocre education for many and no education for a growing segment.
Trace the problem to the root and you'll end up in the student's home. It is there that the value of education must be instilled. And it is there that the education community is losing the battle. I fear we have no way in our society to mandate a thirst for knowledge. That does not bode well for education nor our society.