This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Thursday, October 18th.
The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) is a non-profit group tackling the chronic underperformance of American students in the so-called STEM studies (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). They've identified a series of steps that they say regular public schools can take to not only improve the way math and science are taught, but also increase the number of kids who elect to sign up for the more challenging math and science courses. And this group is making waves.
They have a comprehensive program with lots of elements. For example, a high school usually has only one AP calculus teacher, meaning she typically has no one to talk to about a how best to teach certain parts of a curriculum. And so their program makes sure all teachers have mentors to whom they can turn for support. Their plan also brings in free pizza for kids who come in to study on Saturdays.
But there's one particular piece of the NMSI plan that's getting the most attention. Kids will get $100 cash for each subject in which they pass an Advanced Placement test. And their teachers will get $100 as well.
Gregg Fleisher of the National Math and Science Initiative told me that the biggest effect of the cash awards is how they motivate kids to take the harder classes in the first place.
"If we go into a typical American school, and say to let's say a Junior pre-calculus class and ask, 'How many kids are going to take calculus next year?' About half will raise their hand. Now if we say, 'Well you know, if you'll get $100 for passing this advanced placement exam, would you consider taking calculus?' And inevitably, always, a lot more students raise their hand."
The cash awards plan has its critics, of course, who say that paying kids to learn turns them into little mercenaries, and it's training them to stop caring about education as soon as no one's handing them any more money. But Gregg Fleisher says there's only one thing you need to know about their approach: It's actually working.
"After one year, we have a 79% increase in the number of students passing AP math, science and English exams. So if we go into a school that has a base of 100 passing exams, we have 179 in just one year."
He says in three years, the 79% increase becomes a 164% increase.
In case you think this is some tiny pilot program somewhere, think again. The plan has already been adopted by 462 schools in nine states, at a cost of almost $80 million. Just maybe a school in your town should know more about it.
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