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Editorial - Cash for better schools

November 07, 1997

Editorial - Cash for better schools

The latest plan to improve student performance in the Pennsylvania schools - rewarding schools where student test scores improve with extra cash - seems like a good idea art first glance. But just as there must be remedial help for students who lag behind their classmates, the state must also find a way to push schools that perform poorly to do a better job.

Gov. Tom Ridge has been trying to improve the state school system since he took office, with proposals like voucher programs for low-income families. The latest proposal, contained in this year's budget, would force the state's schools to compete against each other for $10.4 million in supplemental funds.

To win the cash, which could range from $ 4 to $35 per pupil, students must improve their performance on standardized tests over a two-year period.

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And what happens to the schools that don't improve?

Nothing, said Dan Langan, an education department spokesman, adding that the program "is an incentive to improve on their own past performance."

We like this program because it assumes that, if given a chance, the schools will respond in a positive way. We also like the plan's emphasis on competition, because that's just what happens in the working world every day. Some people prosper because they learn to work harder and smarter than their competitors.

But in the working world, if Smith's Machine Shop loses all its business to Jones' Machine Shop, Smith's workers have other options, like going to work for Jones. Not so for the kids in a public school that's stuck in a rut.

And so, while state officials are measuring school performance and doling out awards, they ought to be thinking about what can be done about those schools that aren't improving. In Maryland, the state takeover of poor-performing schools has been threatened more often than it's actually been carried out, but if the lure of more money doesn't turn schools around, stronger measures may be necessary.

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