Schools Paying Students to Learn is a Mistake

March 5, 2008

It’s a sad day when we have to pay our children to learn.  But even more distressing is what they are learning from this experience.

MoneyThe New York Times recently reported on how the school systems in the city are paying kids to do well on each test and exam, with some kids earning as much a $50 per exam.

I nearly fell out of my chair when I read this article.  It’s one thing for parents to reward their kids for doing a good job.  I got a little pocket change on report card day for any As and Bs I brought home.  A little incentive never hurts.

It’s an entirely different thing for the school to bribe students to do their work.  This concept is absurd – on so many levels.

Firstly, the obvious financial impact on the school system must be considered.  We have schools in this country that can’t afford to buy the books and other supplies they need to properly teach our kids, let alone afford to pay students.

I understand that some school districts are better off than others, but surely they can find a better use for the money – more advanced classes, extracurricular programs, or tutors for the students doing poorly.  How about a class in managing finances?  Anything, but bribing the kids.

Secondly, we are setting up a precedent to teach these kids that they don’t have to do anything in life unless there’s something in it for them. 

Learning is fundamental for succeeding in life, in my opinion.  And learning is not something you do just in grade school – it’s a lifelong process.  If children don’t realize the value of learning for the pure fact that knowledge will make their life better, then they will never value learning.

What kind of world would we live in if we all stopped learning unless we were paid to do so?  How will these children deal with other tasks in their life – marriage, parenting – when they find out that they are “paid” to do them?

Next, we aren’t talking about pocket change here.  The article mentioned $50 a test for fourth graders.  What is a fourth grader going to do with 50 plus bucks?  Are they financially savvy enough to handle this kind of money?

The article mentions a school in a low-income district.  While I sure the families in this district can use the extra cash, when did fourth graders become breadwinners?  And who says this money makes it home?  Are we just financing vices – drugs, gambling, gang-related activities – with this extra cash?

It is one thing to reward a student that goes above and beyond, who does something outstanding.  It’s another when that incentive is expected and if everyone gets it all the time.

Give out certificates, the occasional gift card.  Make a big deal out of extraordinary events.  I believe it positive feedback.  But let’s not set up our kids to fail in the future by setting up unrealistic expectations of how the world works.

Photo by [Flickr User]. (License: Creative Commons Attribution)


New Rules for Tipping

August 10, 2007

When I waitressed, tipping was what you got for your giving good service.  And 15% was considered a good tip.  Apparently times are changing.

According to this article in MSN Money, the new norm is 20% and tipping is expected, not just a courtesy.  And you tip more than just your waitress.  Click here for your guide to tipping.

TaxAct a Godsend for Us Procrastinators

April 15, 2007

When it comes to doing my taxes I’m a real procrastinator.  Actually, my husband will tell you I’m a procrastinator in general.  I prefer to call it very, very busy.  However, over the past few years I’ve been trying to get my taxes done earlier — I got them in in February one year!  But this year, time really did just get away from me.

TaxActAlas, I can finally sound a sigh of relief — I finished both by federal and state taxes on Friday.  And, thanks to TaxAct, an on-line tax software, I was done in less than two hours!

I’m too cheap to pay someone to do my taxes, but I absolutely hate doing them myself.  So, for the last few years I’ve been using TaxAct and absolutely love it.  Let me tell you why.

Firstly, TaxAct takes you through the tax forms step by step.  It asks me questions and I answer.  And even better, it gives you real examples of the types of things that qualify for each line item.

I don’t need to pour through pages of tax law to find out if I qualify for this deduction or that.  TaxAct asks me questions to help decide.  But if I do have a question on a particular item, TaxAct offers a link on each entry page for better explanations or more detail.

In the upper right corner, TaxAct keeps a running total of my refund.  Therefore, as I answer a question I can see how it affects my return.  For example, the software lets me see easily if it’s better for me to itemize or take the standard deduction.  (Yes, I know its been years since I did the standard deduction, but it’s always nice to see the compare and contrast.)

Since I file married jointly, it’s also nice that it lets me see what my return would be if I filed married, but separate returns.  I don’t have to go back and figure out which method offers me the bigger return.  I enter the information once and the software does a comparison for me.

Another great feature, if you use TaxAct year after year, is that TaxAct gives you the opportunity to import last year’s tax returns and apply any relevant information to this year’s return.  I absolutely adore this feature.  If you don’t have a lot of changes from year to year (i.e. the company you work for, your mortgage company, you interest-bearing bank accounts or stocks), this feature saves you from having to re-enter basic company information.

And if your time is limited, you’ll love the fact that TaxAct uses the same information you entered for your federal return and applies it to your state return.  No double entry!

If that’s not enough, when you’ve finished your return, TaxAct checks it for errors.  And if you’ve used it the year before, TaxAct will even compare this year’s return to last year’s.  A great way to quickly identify any errors.  And for those of you curious, TaxAct will compare your return with the national average.

Finally, TaxAct gives you two options for filing your return — completely paperless, or for those of you who prefer to mail it, a downloaded paper copy to send out.

So how about you?  Still procrastinating or have you already received your return?  Do you use a service/software or do you still do it by hand?