I’m feeling a bit queasy after reading the ABCNews.com story “Some D.C. Students to Be Paid for A’s” from 8/26/08. Here’s an excerpt:
Will middle school students hit the books, show up on time and be on their best behavior if they’re getting paid?
As Washington, D.C. students start back to school this week, that’s the thinking behind a new program just launched in the district. As early as October at 14 of 28 D.C. middle schools, students will get paid to perform as part of a pilot program that rewards kids for good grades, attendance, and behavior.
Kids could rake in up to $100 per month, getting paid every two weeks through the program.
Behind the program is D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who’s getting a lot of press for her new approaches to old problems. I’m all for new approaches, if they happen to be better than the old ones. Here’s the comment I posted on ABCnews:
This makes my stomach turn. Of course kids will strive to get better grades if they’ll earn money for it. The question is whether they’ll continue to do so when the rewards are gone, and whether the objective is high grades or deep, self-motivated learning. Alfie Kohn’s book, Punished by Rewards, cites study after study showing that when kids begin to get rewarded for behaviors — even those they previously chose to do (like coloring) — they will stop the behavior when the rewards stop. He also points out that high grades are already a reward, so pay for high grades is a reward for a reward — which is absurd.
Paying kids for high grades is like saying, “If you eat your vegetables, you’ll get dessert.” Kids grow to see the vegetables as the unpleasant means to a positive end, and it’s unlikely that they’ll eat them on their own without the reward. And if the kids think the vegetables (and curriculum) are unappealing, maybe it’s time to spice them up a little instead of using bribes?
High grades do not mean that kids are learning, or are enjoying learning. I sacrificed my health and happiness for high grades throughout school but didn’t retain much. In fact, I’m currently doing a project called Reschool Yourself to repeat my K-college education, on my terms. I hope that someone has the foresight to call off the pay-for-grades program before it does too much damage to kids’ intrinsic motivation.
I could have gone on at length about paying kids for grades, because I think it’s wrong on so many levels.
What do you think? Were you paid for high grades as a kid, and if so, how did that affect you?