Did you hear this story on NPR?
The fact is that middle and upper class folks have always rewarded their children for doing well, with allowance, gifts, privileges, and more. And these kids have always understood that doing well in school = college = skills and opportunities = meaningful career. If you come from a family that does not embrace that value system because it was never accessible to them, should you be shortchanged? If you have an overworked, overwhelmed single mom who never had the chance to go to college and is in debt, who's going to reward you for that hard-earned A? Who's going to take you out to dinner? I say let's give the program a try. Give a sliver of that $12,000/kid that goes to school systems to the kid.
I teach in a women’s college with many nontraditional students who are working full-time, single parenting, and going to school. They should get paid for the huge sacrifice they are making! On the other hand, my 2 college student daughters can focus exclusively on school, because my husband and I are paying their tuitions. Essentially we “pay” them for concentrating on their studies.
On another level, paying kids for performance in school is a form of reparations. This NPR story is about a predominantly African American school. As a nation, we are in debt to populations who were historically and institutionally deprived of rights. We can't pay the victims, but what if we gave that money to their children? Too late to do this? Give it to the current generation.
This reminds me of the debate on the current government bail-out of Wall Street. What if instead of 700 billion to the banks, we gave that money to the people in foreclosure themselves? What if we gave it to those who have the least instead of those who have the most, as Howard Zinn suggests? (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20081027/zinn)
What if we paid the kids instead of throwing more money at the system? What if we paid the slaves instead of the foremen and plantation owners? Of course we need to support the public school administrators and teachers, and not just "bribe" kids. But why not do both? The "bribe" is basically a way of developing will and establishing new habits.
If parents are not teaching these skills for whatever reasons, the school needs to step in. Geoffrey Canada demonstrates at Harlem Children's Zone that if poor kids are given the same opportunities middle class kids have always had, they can succeed as well. Listen to the interview with him on This American Life at http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=364.
I am frankly tired of people of privilege denying poor people the rights the middle and upper classes have always had.