William Butler Yeats once wrote, "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire."
The city education establishments in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., beg to differ. The leaders of these abysmally performing systems believe education is indeed the filling of a pail - with money. For a change, their latest gambit is not aimed at funneling taxpayer dollars into bureaucracies but rather raising private funds to pay students for good grades.
Chicago Public Schools became the latest to adopt the "Green for Grade$" test program whereby a control group of 5,000 freshmen at 20 high schools will get graduated cash payments for academic performance: $50 for an A; $35 for a B; and $20 for a C.
CPS Superintendent Arne Duncan told the Chicago Tribune, "I'm always trying to level the playing field. This is the kind of incentive middle-class families have had for decades."
Duncan, like others in charge of government monopolies, is defiantly unbounded by his own hypocrisy. For it is Mr. Duncan and his friends running the teacher's unions that oppose pay-for-performance reforms such as merit pay for teachers who produce results in the classroom.
Speaking of the incentivized middle class, a more reflective person might contemplate why middle-class families, who make up a significant portion of the 3 million people living in Chicago, have abandoned CPS as Duncan correctly implies.
A system from which only six in 100 students will go on to earn a bachelor's degree by the age of 25 is a system that parents who have the ability to flee will flee.
Some critics of the "Green for Grade$" program have said such payments for grades are getting students to do the right things for the wrong reasons and will fail to cultivate a real interest in learning. Others have been more pointed, saying the payments amount to bribes.
The fundamental problem with cash-for-grades programs is that they are yet another bailing-out-the-Titanic-with-a-teaspoon approach to education reform.
As these programs gain traction in our nation's worst-performing school systems, we must recognize them for the misdirection plays that they are and not allow ourselves to be taken on a tangent that moves us away from a discussion of long-term, systemic school reform.