Bridging the Educational Gap with Green

Earning an “A” in Chicago Public High Schools, a freshman student could gross $50 dollars. Receiving a “B” or “C” could put $35 and $20 dollars respectively in the pockets of 5000 high school freshmen students in 20 Chicago public schools. This initiative is part of a Harvard-designed test. The study was noted in the September 11, 2008 Chicago Tribune . The program, “Green for Grade$” which involves no tax payer money, received 2 million to pilot the program from private sources.

This is a new manner in approaching the academic gap between Black and White students in America. Recently on the CNN special, “Black in America,” Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s efforts to engage Black elementary-aged Black students by means of paying them to do their assigned school work was briefly discussed. Chicago is following programs in cities like New York and Washington D.C. Some proponents noted that this is approach is not harmful for many parents have always paid their children allowances for good grades. In addition, some see the program as a way to motivate students “who are not getting the motivation at home…” Critics believe that the program will not “cultivate an interest in learning, curiosity…”

In my scholarly opinion, programs like this will do more harm than good. Black students have substantial stereotypes already playing to their demise. Moreover, as in the past, within the 21st century, actions that enable the power and privilege of Whites in part are fueled by stereotypes and the fear of non-Whites.

The bold scholar and intellectual hero, Frantz Fanon said:

I was hated, despised, detested, not by the neighbor across the street, or my cousin on my mother’s side, but by an entire race. I was up against something unreasoned. The psychoanalysts say that nothing is more traumatizing for the young child than his encounters with what is rational. I would personally say that for a man whose only weapon is reason there is nothing more neurotic than contact with unreason.

Paying Black students for their grades sends a covertly accurately translated message to Whites that Blacks proverbially fit within the historical stereotypes of lazy and “shiftless.” Strategies such as paying students are nothing but a continuation of the medical model which simply illustrates a focus on the flaws of the individual instead of the system. The system of public education needs to be seen as a factor affecting the academic outcomes of students of color. Until this is honestly approached, we as a society will continue to look for cures to the symptoms instead of the disease which is merely institutional racism in public education.


  1. Seattle in Texas

    Again Dr. Fitzgerald, I think this was very nicely put. I know many educational psychologists would agree with your assessment also, particularly with relation to how this does not teach the students to become life long learners, etc. (regardless of color) as it conditions students to value extrinsic motivation and to devalue intrinsic motivation. It operates out of behaviorism, which has its place–but is totally abused in education (and other institutional settings). Some would argue it has no place in education (or elsewhere). However, I know many argue teaching through models and paradigms that are geared toward conditioning students to be intrinsically oriented should begin during the earliest stages of education, etc., is a positive thing (cognitive oriented folks, just to name a few for example). I think achievement recognition is important, but not necessarily through money. But also, they should know better in that grades are not always a true indicator of knowledge (if at all?). And how does discrimination of various sorts on part of the teachers and administration play a role in lower grades? And how does that impact self-esteem? The questions could continue on. But serious institutional changes need to be implimented throughout the nation….

  2. Let’s say you are correct, that paying black children to do well in school feeds into a stereotype that blacks are lazy and “shiftless”. If that stereotype already exists, is it not in our children’s favor to actually be educated to fight against that stereotype? I may be regarded as lazy and shiftless, but that means little against the reality that I am a doctoral candidate. The stereotype is more powerful if I can’t read on grade level. If it took a school paying me money, using the lessons of a so-called meritorious capitalist system – I’m rewarded for doing well – I fail to see how the bad (continuing stereotypes) outweigh the good (stereotypes flattened by an educated masses)?

  3. Another thought – I see paying students for good grades as addressing what we can address in the individual. If you ask many teachers in urban districts, who are in there every day, they will tell you that if they had a classroom full of children who wanted to learn, who received incentives to learn, then the children would learn. Now yes, lack of materials can weigh against the goal of learning, but a lack of motivation will simply knock the goal down.

  4. Strategies such as paying students are nothing but a continuation of the medical model which simply illustrates a focus on the flaws of the individual instead of the system. The system of public education needs to be seen as a factor affecting the academic outcomes of students of color. Until this is honestly approached, we as a society will continue to look for cures to the symptoms instead of the disease which is merely institutional racism in public education.

  5. This is bad, because as SiT already mentioned, extrinsic reward destroys intrinsic motivation to learn. Even students who begin genuinely curious and interested in learning will become incurious and disinterested in learning if you train them to value extrinsic reward. If later on, these students are put in a situation where they are not paid for their grades, they will not see value in school.

    Why didn’t Roland Fryer, economics professor, consult with educational psychologists? The general public being ignorant about psychology research is one thing, but there is no reason for one academic or set of academics to try something again that has already been proven not to work in the relevant field.

    This is like decreasing the funding of schools that do poorly, except on the individual level.

  6. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald

    In response to “grandmommy” I would suggest you look at the works of Shelby Steele and the stereotype threat. We need to be careful and take into consideration the threat to self-esteem and academic performannce when flippantly discussing stereotypes and their power on the psyche. Next you simply you may be able to pursuade a dolphin to do tricks through the use of fish, but it does not mean that you have increased the dolphin’s desires to perform without the incentive in the future.

  7. M.

    Dr. Fitzgerald’s argument is well-made in this post, but I am not convinced. I think any effect of strengthening negative stereotypes would probably really be modest. (Note one could make a very similar argument against Affirmative Action, which I would not buy either.)
    What I think is good about how Fryer has approached this is that it is a pilot program with an evaluation of whether it works. On that basis, and given that he’s gotten the money from private foundations and not from cash-starved public schools, I think it’s worth a try. I’m all for systems change too, but that doesn’t preclude seeing if this might not help put more urban youth on the path of trying to be the next Johnny Chochran rather than the next Michael Jordan.
    The very early results from NYC seem to suggest it may not work. Check out

  8. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald

    It seems that we all are forced to agree to disagree. What we all can agree on is that we as a society must think outside of the proverbially box when looking at solutions to the crisis in public education. I feel it is important for us to remember a few things. First, strategies like these have a myopic approach. Simply, it seems that many researchers are overlooking gender differences that exist with students of color. It is evident through graduation rates, standardized and national scores that females of color are performing at a higher level than males of color. We can not simply prescribe the same medication to all those who are seen academically deficient. Next, we as an intellectual community have to ask ourselves…“Why are we not focusing our efforts on White students as well when America is faced with the fact that American high school achievements are not up-to-par with international students. It is always easy to discuss the failures of people of color when the social reproduction of racism and stereotypes thrives and cloud the American psyche. Finally, I think we need to be cautious in terms of the funding source. Yes, as “M.” stated, the funding is not from “cash-starved public schools.” I feel it is important to discover the source for their have historically been in existences groups funding projects that benefit the mechanism of oppression and racism through research findings that deem and revive entrenched stereotypes…Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray anyone?

  9. I am aware of Dr. Steele’s work on stereotype threat, which as I understand it, applies to all black students, regardless if they are high academic achievers or not. Also, I don’t think there is such a clear distinction between internal and external motivation. The job market, which is what education should be preparing students for, is all based on a reward structure. While of course not always true, the general rule is “if you work hard and produce, you will be paid.” In an even more basic sense, when I am trying to figure out how to best persuade my two-year-old to change his behavior, all I can rely on is external motivation. Over time, though, as he comes to expect the praise for good behavior, he comes to see then value of good behavior not just from my praise, but from the response of others around him (such as not hitting, etc.) So what began as something externally motivated changed to internal motivation. I don’t think this is a catch-all solution to the crisis of public education, but I do think it is a tactic that can work for some children and should be tried and tested for its long term benefits.

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