Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Who Says You Get a Reward for Doing What You are SUPPOSED to do?

There has been a lot of talk of providing financial incentives for students who do well in school. Not to toot my own horn...but I was a pretty good student in school...and never had to be paid. So why should we pay kids for doing what they are supposed to do? Going to school and getting decent grades is one of the few things we expect from our children so they should not be compensated financially. We clothe them, feed them, provide that is their "payment," right?

Hmmmm...I'm just not sure. Times are different now. When we perform better at work, don't we expect a raise, a promotion, some kind of recognition? Should students have the same opportunity? If paying for grades is the only way to encourage students to do well in school, why not?

As an educator I know about the value of intrinsic (as opposed to extrinsic) motivators. But when I think back to my own childhood...I didn't get "paid"for good grades....but there was always an uncle who gave me $5 for getting As or an aunt who would take me to lunch for a good report card. There was also the proud looks from my parents when they would show my family my report card during family gatherings. Or the times they took certificates and plaques that I earned to work so that they could show off to their friends. So,what if a child doesn't have those parents who show pride in academic achievement? What if there is no uncle with a five dollar bill or an aunt waiting for a lunch date? What if the only reward or pat on the back a child receives is a financial one?

I am still very torn on the issue. I worry about whether such a program will encourage cheating or reduce intrinsic motivation. Is there an age range where these type of rewards work better than others? What about students with unidentified learning disorders that may always lag behind - who will reward them? The research on these type of programs have mixed results so I am not the only one who is still undecided on this issue! There are all kinds of questions still stirring around in my head. Maybe I'll rewrite this blog when I come to a conclusion.... in the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think. Should students be rewarded for good attendance and good grades?


  1. Tonya,

    Like you I am torn on the payment for good grades/attendance issue. What happened to the days of doing the RIGHT thing simply because it's expected of you?

    However, I'd like to offer this. As the Development Director for a mentoring organization with a largely inner-city, low-income constituent base, I've come to learn that the phrase 'right thing' is a relative one. Having visited many of these families in their homes (sometimes visiting family members in prison), I've realized that 'right' for them is doing whatever it takes to meet the most basic necessities. Many of these families are fourth and fifth year welfare recipients, where there is very little incentive to excel academically. For these children, the payment incentive, coupled with a genuine desire to learn, could just be their saving grace.

    Clearly much more research on this issue is needed and finding one solution that fits every situation will no doubt be difficult to achieve. Still, it makes for a very interesting proposition.


  2. Dear Tonya:

    I'm so glad that you're following us on Twitter. I enjoy your blog, and I'd love to talk to you about collaborating.

    Would you please contact me? read [at] or Ruth [at] or 800-649-5514

    With appreciation, Ruth Harris

  3. @ Tiffany: Great point about what is right being relative. I think you are on to something there. When I think of upper class children, financial incentive might not be a motivating factor for them. Some of them drive to school in cars nicer than the principal's car :)!

    @Ruth: I am glad you are enjoying the blog thus far. I will email you shortly.



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