Conditional Cash Transfers, Parents, And Schools

We’re all going to be hearing a lot more about “Conditional Cash Transfers” (CCT’s) as a “poverty-fighting” tool. In fact, this past week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at a big conference in New York about them. If you don’t know what they are, I’ll share more about them in a moment. I personally think there are probably better ways to combat poverty, but, for the most part, I can’t be that opposed to getting a few more bucks into the hands of low-income people — in most circumstances.

Unfortunately, however, we’re also going to hear more about them as a tool to push parents to be more involved in schools, and as a way to push students to get better grades and do better on tests. This is where I really have a problem with CCT’s.

First, let’s start with an overview of what these Conditional Cash Transfers actually are.  Here’s a recent newspaper article that gives a short summary — Latin America makes a dent in poverty with ‘conditional cash’ programs. Basically, families are provided incentive payments for behavior the program views as beneficial to families and to society — such as getting health exams, vaccinations, regular school attendance, higher test scores, grades, attending parent/teacher conferences. They’ve been used extensively in Mexico and Central and South America, and programs have been started in New York and the San Francisco Bay Area.

These kinds of programs appear to have had positive impacts on some aspects low-income families’ lives.  However, research has shown that their success with anything related to schools has been negligible — both in New York and in other countries.

I’ve written in my other blog about my objections to paying students for increased test scores. I’m all for applying financial resources to encourage parent engagement in schools, including with the academic lives of their children. But instead of using them to support a program that doesn’t work, let’s use them for efforts that do, like supporting teacher home visits to listen and build relationships, and connect parents with others who have similar concerns so they can act together on them; like supporting family literacy projects initiated and led by parents; by supporting the development of parent/school community gardens; and by supporting parent and school participation in community-wide organizing efforts to improve neighborhoods.

Let’s not use CCT’s as a “red herring” that sounds “sexy” and can be used to divert attention from real solutions to a problem.

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