District middle schoolers eligible to earn cash for good grades and behavior will need to show up with their A-game starting Monday, September 29. That's the start date announced by officials for the new "Capital Gains" experiment that will launch at 14 D.C. schools that serve middle school kids.
At a series of community meetings Tuesday night, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the program's creator, Harvard University economist Roland G. Fryer, offered new details about the program, which has sparked sharp debate about the propriety of paying kids for doing well in school:
* Students will earn points based on five measures. The first two will be attendance and behavior. The other three will be up to the individual schools, but could include grades, homework completion and adherence to dress codes.
* Every two weeks, students will be given a 1-to-10 score in each category. Each point will be worth $2.00, so the maximum earnings for any two-week period will be $100. With 15 two-week periods planned for the school year, students can receive up to $1,500. The first payday is Oct. 17.
* SunTrust Bank will set up individual accounts for the estimated 3,000 students eligible for the program. While the first two pay periods may be handled with checks, Fryer said, funds will be electronically deposited beginning no later than Nov. 7. SunTrust will also run financial literacy sessions for students.
* Kids can sign up at school and must have a Social Security number. Parents have the option of creating a joint account or one in the name of the student only. Because the program is set up on a "passive consent" basis, parents have to sign a form to opt out of the experiment.
The schools, selected by a mathematically-based random assignment, are Hardy, Eliot-Hine, Hart, Jefferson, Kelly Miller, Garnet-Patterson-Shaw and Stuart-Hobson middle schools and newly consolidated schools that serve middle schoolers as well as pre-K, kindergarten and elementary students: Brightwood, Browne-Gibbs-Young, Burroughs, Emery, Langdon, Takoma and Whittier.
Fryer said that safeguards are in place to ensure that teachers award points fairly and that the money gets into student hands. He also said he understood that the program is no "silver bullet" for what ails urban schools. But it was important for kids to learn, he said, that the rewards for academic achievement can be tangible and short-term, not just ten or twelve years down the road.
Raised by his grandmother in public housing in Daytona Beach, Fryer said public education was most likely to be reformed by "52 percent solutions, not 100 percent solutions."
""But it is better than sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing."
By Bill Turque