Math for a few dollars more


Paying attention in Marcus Franco's class pays off.

Students in his Algebra I classes at Costa Mesa High School culminated a year-long accountability project last week by collectively pulling $4,200 out of a "money grab box." The box contained currency amounts ranging from 25 cents to $100, and students earned draws from it for their test scores, attendance records and paying attention in class. Each paper dollar was inscribed with a dollar amount that could be redeemed for real cash later that afternoon.

The classroom was filled with cupcakes, soda and anticipation as classmates filed to the front of the room on Friday. They took turns donning a blindfold and reaching into the money box.

"I'm hoping for at least $100 — money for new shoes," said freshman Ryan Perez, 14, as he waited for his turn.

"I've been doing really good in class and I wanted to do well all year so I could get lots of draws," said Ryan. "This class combines something I wasn't really into with something I am," he added, eyeing his sneakers and smiling.

A classmate ahead of him drew two consecutive $100 bills from the box.

"Unbelievable! Two-hundred and ninety-two is a record," Franco exclaimed, as teenagers started putting in requests to go shopping with the winner. This is the fifth year that Franco conducted the project.

"Seventy-three percent of my students are advancing in math next year," said Franco, crediting the accountability project as a big factor in that success. "I'm a firm believer in creating relevance to life in middle-school and high-school math. This project allows immediate positive and negative reinforcement and has a real-life application," said Franco.

He has his students keep track of their draws throughout the year by maintaining a "gradecheckbook" of "Franco Dollars," which can be cashed in for draws at the end of the year. In the system, dollars are not only earned, but also deducted for tardiness, inattentiveness, incomplete homework and low test scores.

In addition, the gradecheckbook helps students keep track of their grade, which is also based on the accumulation of Franco Dollars.

The students themselves funded the money box by seeking donations from local businesses, families and friends. In order to participate, each student was required to raise a minimum of $40. Throughout the course of the day, a total of 70 students made 1,593 draws from the money box. While maintaining the gradecheckbook is a class requirement, Franco bills participation in the money grab as an extracurricular.

Freshman Oscar Reyes,14, had 28 draws.

"I can tell this is the one; I can tell," Oscar said, reaching in for his last grab and hoping for a $100 bill.

Some girls in the back of the classroom started chanting his name. Somebody called out "Young Money," a popular rap record label. The class laughed at the double-entendre as Oscar pulled out a slip for $1. The merriment changed to sympathetic applause.

"This is a nice incentive he does for his students," Principal Edward Wong said of Franco as he stepped into the math teacher's classroom to observe the event. "Is that a $1,000 bill?" he asked, joking with a blindfolded student who had just drawn a $1 slip.

Franco said he has gotten a great response from administration and faculty to his student accountability project. He sees no ethical problem in offering students money as an incentive for learning.

"I'm a firm believer in compensating kids for academic performance and I don't apologize for that for one second," Franco said. "In real life, you're going to be compensated for your work. We live in a capitalistic society where we all reap rewards or punishments based on our performance. I want students to have this real-life application at an early age."

"Ideally, I would like a (private organization and state-funded) bank account for each kid, from eighth- through 12th-grade. Every A, B or C they get in college-prep classes should put money into this account that they can access when they graduate, to spend on college," said Franco, echoing the sentiments of school districts in New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., that have implemented similar programs for students.

Franco hopes to inspire teachers across the nation to use his accountability method. He is currently working on editing a book he wrote — "The Money Teacher: The Gradecheckbook Classroom Management Program. Compensating Students for Academic Performance" — which he hopes to publish in August.

"It's real-life application. Their dollars turn into real money. They learn that small choices have consequences in life," Franco said.

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