One fact is certain, and it is that there has been no truly successful
program to overcome the academic gap between black kids and white. And
between other educationally under-performing groups and Asians or
Jews. Some people purport to have a solution. Like teaching Harlem kids
to play chess. OK, maybe. But everybody has an excuse for why, since much
attention and at least as much money has been devoted to the goal of
raising performance of minority children in school, the effort has failed.
A year ago, at a party at Larry and Lissa Summers's house, I met a very young
Afro-American economist, Roland G. Fryer (I'm told the youngest member of
the Harvard faculty ever, even younger than Summers was), who had made this
congeries of problems his problem. He told me about one program he'd
organized in Dallas where targeted children are paid to read, finish and
write about books they'd otherwise never had even seen. Another program in
Chelsea, Mass. rewarded children with perfect attendance a $25 prize.
An article in Friday's Daily News and another in Saturday's Times reported
that Fryer has caught the attention of Mayor Bloomberg and Schools
Chancellor Joel Klein (a friend of mine and of TNR) and he has proposed
paying students cash for high performance on standardized tests.
"Feh," some of my readers might say. Not nice. But maybe material
incentives are just the right answer. I know one reason why I did well at
school. Because my mother made me feel that I'd be thought a dunce if I
didn't. It's not such a more elevated motive.
Of course, some people are repelled by any nexus between cash and
education. Except when they are measuring the expenditures between
Scarsdale and Harlem. But the fact is that there is more per capita money
spent in Harlem than in the Westchester suburbs. I'm all for this new
experiment. Fryer persuaded me last year. I'm glad he persuaded Bloomberg
and Klein this year.
Take a look at Fryer's web site: Americaninequalitylab.com