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Merit pay (for parents)

Money is a powerful motivating force. Just ask the hundreds of teachers who hit the streets of Miami Monday to protest a bill that would link their pay to students' test scores.

That same day Time magazine reported on a national trend in schools paying children who improve their test scores. Some are having success with it, too, much to the chagrin of critics, who call it bribery.

For some reason, we're OK with talking about salary bonuses, raises and merit pay for teachers and other adults, but when it comes to our kids, we get all squeamish about doling out dollars for grades. Call it what you want – reward, incentive, prize – but we pay our children all the time to make them do what we want. From a sticker for using the potty to a cookie for sitting still in church, we are constantly bargaining and offering our kids some type of payback for good behavior. Many parents I know also give their kids money for good report cards.

But I think most of us – and the Florida Legislature – have it all wrong. Instead of threatening to take money away from teachers or give money to kids for good grades, it's parents who should be receiving the performance pay. If we really want to improve a kid's chances in the classroom, let's talk about motivating mom and dad.

To be more involved. To impress upon their children the importance of a good education. To read to their kids at night. To make sure the homework gets done. To get kids to school on time with breakfast in their bellies and a good night's sleep in their immediate past.

For optimal behavior modification, forget paying off teachers and students. I propose offering tax incentives to parents whose kids improve their behavior and grades in school. Every A on a report card at the end of the school year is worth a $1,000 tax break every April 15. Every time your kid raises his or her performance by a grade, another tax break kicks in. Your kid brings home all Fs or a failing test score? Be prepared to pay a tax on that.

What? You don't think that's fair? You may want to borrow a few signs from yesterday's teachers.

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