By Carlos Sadovi
'This is investing in you,' Harvard economics professor tells teens.
When this weekend's homecoming dance rolls around, freshman Khadijah Alfred will be decked out in a new outfit thanks to the $125 check she earned Thursday for getting straight A's the last five weeks.
The 14-year-old at Manley Career Academy High School is one of more than 1,650 Chicago Public Schools students cashing in on a new district program offering money to freshmen at 20 schools for getting top -- and even average -- grades in five core subjects including math, English and science. District officials said students earned $265,986 this time, with the money coming from a Harvard University education research laboratory and private donations.
Every five weeks, students receive $50 for A's, $35 for B's and $20 for C's. Students get half the money now and collect the rest only if they graduate. For Alfred, who wants to go to law school, that's money in the bank for college.
"It's awesome. I'm going shopping," she said. "It made me work a little bit harder but I'm already a highly motivated person."
Schools chief Arne Duncan said 86 percent of Manley freshmen earned money for grades -- the highest percentage in the district. At a news conference, he told Manley freshmen they will serve as role models to younger students if they keep their grades up.
"This is about success now, but success now is not enough. ... There are no good jobs out there without a high school diploma," he said.
Roland Fryer, the Harvard economics professor heading the program, told students he dropped out of school and began selling drugs until family members and others "invested" in him. "This is investing in you. This is what it's all about," Fryer said.
Sarah Shields, a freshman history teacher who is coordinating the project at Manley, said she has begun seeing students working harder to get better grades, even forming study groups.
"Getting a check is a really personal motivation. Students know if they work harder their personal checks will be bigger," Shields said.
New York City has a similar program that rewards students for grades. Since 2005, Bronzeville High School, formerly the Bronzeville Academic Center in Chicago, has paid out more than $45,000 to 41 students who have maintained a 2.5 grade-point average, have an 85 percent attendance record and show leadership qualities, officials said.