RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Now to school, in this part of the program, to hear about two programs that are going to great lengths to keep kids interested. In a few minutes, one way to bring World War II history to life enlists Japan's most notorious pilots. First we head to Georgia where two schools are paying students to study after school. From our member station WABE, Odette Yousef reports.
ODETTE YOUSEF: In this small class of eight juniors at Creekside High School in Fairburn, Georgia, a few lucky students don't have math homework, so teacher Lashondra Latham busies them with a game.
Ms. LASHONDRA LATHAM (Teacher): Dominoes, deal them out. There are 24 of them and three of you. How many do you get apiece?
YOUSEF: But most of the students aren't free to play games.
Ms. LATHAM: Everyone else take out your homework, please.
YOUSEF: These kids are among 40 from Creekside High and neighboring Bear Creek Middle School who are offered remedial math and science tutoring after school. They were selected because first semester, they failed one or both of those subjects and because they're considered low-income. But unlike typical after-school programs, these kids are getting paid $8 an hour to show up. Unconventional? Yes, says Jackie Cushman, engineer of the pilot program called Learn and Earn.
Ms. JACKIE CUSHMAN (Learn and Earn): From my background, just to let you know, I was never paid for grades. I was never paid to study. It was expected that I would come home with good grades and if I needed additional help, my parents would take the time and help me.
YOUSEF: Cushman is the founder of the Atlanta-based non-profit Learning Makes a Difference, and she's also the daughter of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. It was actually his idea to pay low-income students to improve their grades. Here he is in a 2005 speech at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Mr. NEWT GINGRICH (Former Speaker of the House): What would happen? First of all, you just competed head to head with the pimps, the drug dealers, and the prostitutes as the first people in the neighborhood to have money. Secondly you've suddenly said that geek, who up till now has been ridiculed and despised, actually has money. They can go on dates Friday night because they got paid.
YOUSEF: Cushman hopes that the money will get the kids into the classroom, but once there, they'll start to enjoy learning. She launched Learn and Earn this year after an Atlanta businessman offered to sponsor it. These two schools fit the right profile. More than 60 percent of the students are considered low-income; more than 90 percent are minorities. Sixteen-year-old Raven Hillary(ph) failed her first semester of algebra this year and she jumped at the chance to join the program.
Ms. RAVEN HILLARY (Student involved in Learn and Earn): Like I've passed a couple of tests since the tutoring, I've been turning in more homework. Like I just got some worksheets today - my homework sheets - they're 100, when a couple weeks ago were saying 40.
Mr. RICHARD LAKES (Associate Professor in Educational Policy at Georgia State University): This message really reinforces that these low-income kids are destined to a lifetime of wage-earning.
YOUSEF: Richard Lakes is associate professor in educational policy at Georgia State University.
Mr. LAKES: It reinforces that these children in particular are going to be servants of the middle and upper classes.
YOUSEF: Lakes doesn't believe that an external motivator like money can trigger an intrinsic love of learning and achievement that Cushman is hoping for. Indeed some of the kids say it was other factors that drew them to the program. One boy simply wanted school help so badly, he had his math teacher go with him to his after-school job at Wal-Mart and plead with his boss to change his schedule. Raven Hillary also wanted help, but she couldn't get it until this program offered a bus to take her home.
Ms. HILLARY: I would have did it without the pay because I knew I needed it. I mean the pay is nice, but I don't know why they're doing it. It doesn't really matter to me.
YOUSEF: Jackie Cushman says she's waiting until May to see the program's results, but so far, students tell her, it's the money that brings them to the classroom.
For NPR News, I'm Odette Yousef in Atlanta.