Cellphones as Incentive at New York Schools

In New York City public schools, cellphones are considered contraband. But free cellphone airtime could be a reward for high-performing students if the city adopts the newest idea from the city Education Department's chief equality officer.

That official, Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who is leading the city's program to pay cash to some students who do well on standardized tests, told an undergraduate economics class at Harvard last month that his next proposal would include a plan to give cellphones to students, and reward those who do well with free minutes - an idea that is at odds with one of the city's most contentious school policies, the ban on students having cellphones in school.

Last month, the city embraced a plan by a private foundation to reward students who pass Advanced Placement tests with thousands of dollars.

Under the newest proposal, the cellphones would be donated at virtually no cost to the city and students would be unable to make calls during school hours, Fryer said, according to people who attended the lecture. The free phones would have a fixed number of minutes of airtime. Students who excel would be rewarded with additional minutes, Fryer told the class, the people said.

If officials approve the idea, the first batch of free phones, flip-style models donated by Motorola, would be delivered to several hundred students this month, Fryer told the class. He said the program, if approved, would eventually attempt to include one million students in city schools.

Fryer also told the class that celebrities, including the hip-hop artist Jay-Z, might be asked to record ring tones.

Chuck Kaiser, a spokesman for Motorola, said in an e-mail message that the company was "aware of the concept," but that it would be premature to comment on it because "the project is under consideration and no commitments have yet been made."

source: textually.org, international herald tribune

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