No matter how much money any government - federal, state or local - puts into public education, it's never enough in some people's eyes.
A July 1 "NBC Nightly News" segment detailed a new use of tax payer dollars in one of the worst performing, financially struggling school systems in the country - the Washington, D.C. public school system. They are paying school children with taxpayer funds, part of a social experiment to improve school participation at the middle school level.
"Keeping the exuberant sixth graders of Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson in line on a sunny Friday is a challenge for principal Brian Betts," former "Nightly News" anchor-turned-correspondent Tom Brokaw explained. "But this is not an assembly, it's payday. It's called Capital Gains - paying students for good grades, behavior and attendance, part of the massive restructuring of the D.C. schools by a 38-year-old Korean-American woman, who as chancellor, wants to transform what is by many measures the worst-performing public school system in the U.S."
Brokaw credited Washington, D.C. Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee for being instrumental in making this program a reality. He explained the Capital Gains program was the invention of a Harvard think tank that came with a $1.35-million price tag for taxpayers.
"In less than two years, Rhee has replaced nearly one in three of the principals and dozens of teachers, closed 23 failing schools and proposed six-figure salaries in exchange for tenure for teachers," Brokaw said. "And she has put selected D.C. middle schools on the Capital Gains payroll run by a Harvard think tank. The cost of that program $2.7 million, half from D.C. taxpayers, half from a private grant. Through Capital Gains, kids can earn as much as $100 every two weeks, and many of them directly deposit it in a savings account."
Alfie Kohn, author of "Punished By Rewards," criticized the program on a philosophical level because it distorted the meaning of learning in schools for success on standardized tests.
"This program is a bad method consisting of dangling goodies in front of kids rather than treating them respectfully as partners in the learning, married to a bad objective, higher scores on bad standardized tests," Kohn said.
And Brokaw's segment ignored the financial woes that have been facing the D.C. schools. Recently, Rhee went to head-to-head with the D.C. Council on enrollment figures, which would determine budget funding system for the system. According to the June 3 Washington Examiner, the council and Rhee bickered over several million dollars in funding based on enrollment figures. Rhee threatened the council with mass layoffs before a compromised was eventually reached that left $3.3 million on the table pending the outcome of an enrollment audit.