The Real Pay to Play

Is it OK to pay your kids for good grades?

I was disappointed that, at the Haddon Township School Board meeting on Monday night, no one threw a shoe. Or a folding metal chair. Or even a hissy fit. A parent like me hopes for some drama when the superintendent is explaining to the public how he’s going to shave $3.3 million out of the district’s budget for next year. (Dear Governor Christie: Thank you so much for slashing $475 million in state school aid and then threatening up to 15 percent more in cuts for next year. Love, My Kids.)

There’s something on this list to “piss off everyone,” said superintendent Mark Raivetz, as he did what superintendents all over the country are doing: checking off, one by one, what our kids will lose. After-school programs. Sports. Clubs. Counselors. Assessments. Enrichment. Teachers. The list went on. And on. Everyone there seemed to feel the same way: helpless. [SIGNUP]

In September, my oldest daughter will start kindergarten. I’m quite bummed that she won’t have the French classes everyone raves about at her elementary school, or that there won’t be new library books or special programs. But my husband and I can make up for that. Read more. Do more. Don’t rely on the schools.

What scares me is what we must rely on the schools for. What if she has academic problems? What if she has trouble learning to read?

“We may be able to identify kids who need extra help,” Raivetz said. “We just won’t have the resources anymore to do anything about it.” That, he says, will mean more special ed down the line.

Special ed?

I drove home in a state of near-vomit, thinking, “How do I save my baby from a certain life of special ed…and Ritalin…and not getting into Camden Community College?” (Okay, maybe only drama queens hope for drama at school board meetings.) And, then, I remembered a recent study in which high school kids who got paid for grades did better.

My grandfather paid me for grades, from elementary school until I graduated from college. By then, in 1993, I was earning $25 for each A—way better than the free small fry you got when you took your report card to McDonalds, which was the main academic motivator for my generation in the 1970s. It worked: I got lots of As. Getting that money—and he always gave me crisp, brand-new bills—made me feel like it wasn’t all talk, that there was an immediate benefit to mastering quadratic equations, which is what Governor Christie should be forced to do…all day long…in hell. (Who’s a drama queen? Who?)

As my grandfather used to say, “It’s all up to you.”

So, right now, there’s a jar on a shelf in our kitchen. Saying “please” and “thank-you” earns one penny for the jar. Sharing with your little sister earns two. Eating all of your dinner: three. Trying new food: five. The message to our 5-year-old: good performance pays. For her, 10 pennies pay for the only thing she ever wants: a half-hour of TV. Currently, that half hour is not educational like Blues Clues or Sesame or Dora. It’s Star Wars: Episode Three, Revenge of the Sith.

The message to us: you can control the pay, but not the play. But if there’s a chance…even a wee one…that pennies in a jar could help save us from the slap a $3.3 million shortfall…well…why not?

VICKI GLEMBOCKI writes for Philly Mag and blogs at Blunt Force Mama.