Basically, I'm unimpressed with moralists who object to this new wave of programs that pay kids to do well in school. Parents--who can afford to--offer rewards all the time to their kids when they do well. I don't think it much matters that school authorities will take over that function.
Here's where my skepticism lies--the program assumes that the major problem with getting kids to function better in school is a lack of interest. Certainly that's part of the problem, but pre-high school, I don't think poor kids are much less interested in school than rich kids. The difference is the flood of distraction that weighs on poor black kids. Chief among them--getting your ass kicked. It's all well and good to give a kid $500 for acing a standardized test, but that doesn't do much for the constant violence which children in these neighborhoods are exposed to. When I was going to school in Baltimore in the 80s and early 90s, fully a third of my brain was occupied with the task of getting home safely. Another third was occupied with girls. The last third was an even split between (you know me now) the Dallas Cowboys, Rakim, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, and school. You can imagine how my scholastic career went.
And violence is just a part of it. It's coming home and not having an environment in which people are reading. It's the habits of your peer group and the unliklihood that they're a particularly studious bunch. It's the fact that study-habits are learned and not inbred, and that you need people around you who are interested also. I really hope this works, but the older I get and the more I read, the more I feel like we, as a society, aren't really set up to fix these problems. We can barely face up to big looming threats like energy consumption. How can we really hope to do anything at all for a troubled minority of citizens?