Chicago ‘Pay For Grades’ Pilot Program

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ClassroomWhat do you think about paying your kids to get good grades? How’s fifty bones for an A sound? That’s right, fifty dollars seems to be the going rate for an A. B’s will cost you $35 and a C forces you to give up that portrait of Mr. Andrew Jackson in your wallet or purse.

Now, what do you think about the state or school district paying kids for good grades? A Chicago public schools pilot program is doing just that. And the pilot program has a clever name too – Green for Grade$:

Up to 5,000 freshmen at 20 Chicago public high schools will get cash for good—and even average—grades as part of a new, Harvard-designed test program that city education leaders are rolling out Thursday.

Students will be measured every five weeks in math, English, social sciences, science and physical education. An A nets $50, a B equals $35 and a C still brings in $20. Students will get half the money upfront, with the remainder paid upon graduation. A straight-A student could earn up to $4,000 by the end of his or her sophomore year.

I think it’s an idea worth investigating and a pilot plan is a good way to do it. The $2M in funds come from private sources, so it’s not taxpayer money, and this is the type of plan that you can’t dismiss or accept without testing it out.

Some don’t like the idea of paying students for performing well in school because it sends the wrong message. I think it sends the right message. Many student work hard in high school because they see it as a stepping stone for college or a vocational school. They work hard in college or a vocational school because those good grades and skills will get them a job. That job will pay them. That pay is in part dependent on their grades in school. This simply shifts the incentive earlier and gets students engaged at a point where a difference can be made. They will work hard to get better grades so they can get paid for it today, perhaps those grades will translate to a pay day when they graduate.

I agree that it’s not ideal. The ideal would be for a student to want good grades because it’s implicitly important to them, not because they can get $50 for an A. We must face the realities of the situation. The reality is that many of these students are disengaged, they are there because they are required to be there. They do just enough to move through the system until they’re old enough to leave it.

This will also help teachers because it will turn a percentage of disengaged students into engaged ones and those teachers will be more effective at their jobs. Rather than trying to get someone’s attention or battling with a student that’s actively disruptive, they can focus on teaching – this benefits all the other students.

What do you think about this program? Love it? Hate it? Curious to see what happens? I’m very curious to see what happens but this isn’t the type of program that will yield results immediately so we’ll all have to be patient, regardless of our feelings. In the end, I think the test will be well worth it.

(photo: dospaz)

{ 20 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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20 Responses to “Chicago ‘Pay For Grades’ Pilot Program”

  1. If pay for grades is what motivates students, I don’t want to hire them.

    In DC they are now paying them just to show up at school. That’s a better deal for the students.

    Next thing we might see in Chicago is a students union, demanding more money for an A plus money just for showing up. After all, why should the DC students have a better deal?

  2. Andrew says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment, the situation isn’t ideal but it’s an interesting idea that could bring positive change. Part of the problem in many inner-city schools is convincing youth that education is truly valuable, when often the people they look up to in society and their communities are not well-educated. This plan won’t revolutionize education, but we as a whole have invested more money in other ways that turned out futile, and novel ideas are needed. CPS still has many issues but this is worth a shot.

  3. Amber Jones says:

    I think that this is a good *concept*. When I was a freshman, I could care less about the work, and didn’t want to be there, and did what I had to do to get by. Then has I started getting closer to my graduation, I started to do better because I knew it meant a better job out there. Better chances at different colleges. So this could be the extra nudge that freshman need to start early, and then who knows, by the time they are a senior, they aren’t thinking about the money they will get upon graduation, they will be thinking about the opportunities they will now have because they did well the past 4 years. There will be those that will prove this to not be worth it because they are taught not to care. However, there will be others who will show that this could be an effective means to help them do well.

  4. jim says:

    Amber, you make a good point. You start doing it because of the $50/35/20 payout but as you get older, you recognize you can get even more by getting good grades and getting a good job.

  5. Amber Jones says:

    Exactly! Your post makes more sense than my giberish. lol!

  6. I do think these pilot programs will show some positive results b/c we’re such a money focused culture, but I have an ethical or philosophical issue with this whole experiment. Perhaps I grew up old school style, but poor results in the classroom (or in anything else for that matter) led to consequences and losses in privileges.

    Bad grades? No football. No car. Sit your bum ass at home until they improve!

    Take away the Xbox, the cell phones and MySpace pages, and I’m certain all this poor grades crap would work itself out.

    So here is the question – are parents too lazy or too soft to deal with this issue? Are we settling for the quick fix by throwing money at the problem? Don’t we do that enough in this country already?

  7. Whatever it takes! I agree it’s not ideal but if it works it will be worth it.

    If this program keeps kids in school who would otherwise quit and get a job, great. Hopefully it will keep them in school long enough to get over their rebellious stage.

    Since the program is funded privately, no loss. I hope these private donors are also contributing to the schools in general by way of better supplies and facilities.

  8. Amber Jones says:


    I’d have to agree now with that comment. My children aren’t school aged – but they do have to deal with cause and effect. For instance – they don’t clean their room (or help do it anyways) then they don’t get a story at bedtime. Plain and simple. And it’s effective. After so many times of not getting their story, they have finally started cleaning up – and on their own a lot of times.

    My parents were never “soft” on me. I got privileges taken away all the time. The flip side is that now I get to see my brother and sister in law grow up, and their parents are the complete opposite. They “ground” them – to the house. They still get their cell phones, and the internet, and their games. Doesn’t teach them a thing. It just means that they can’t go hang out with their friends at the mall or whatever. I thank my parents for disciplining me the way they did.

    Thankfully both my brother and sister in law get relatively ok grades. Not straight A’s.. but not a lot of D’s and F’s either.

    The fact of the matter is, we will never have the perfect “system” down – each student is going to be different, and will it will take different ways to get them to do what they need to do.

  9. Rick Morley says:

    I agree with the comments that parents should be the ones restricting their kids’ privileges if they don’t get good grades. But the fact is that many parents are completely disengaged from their kids’ lives. Should the government step in?

    I also agree that this program is good, in concept at least. But the problem is once these things get too large, they become too institutional, bureaucratic, and ineffectual. There is already too much pressure on teachers to artificially inflate grades. I know several teachers who have given students well-deserved bad grades on tests, and then the parents call them, or even come to the teacher’s office, and demand the teacher give their children better grades. The teachers even get verbally abused by the parents. Nevermind that the kids didn’t even study and frankly didn’t deserve a good grade.

    I can only image if now they are fighting over $50 for earning an A. Imagine all the parents that will demand better grades for their students. I can foresee a significant amount of “grade inflation” that will happen due to this program.

    What is the solution? I’m not sure. I do congratulate these people on a willingness to think outside the box and come up with ingenious solutions that may work. And if it does work, good for them. But I just don’t think that it will work.

  10. S. says:

    I got almost all A’s in high school and worked my butt off at part time jobs for extra spending money. My parents made very decent incomes but wanted me to work for my own money; you know life lessons and all that fun stuff. I understand incentive to get better grades, but I never ever got money, not even from my parents for getting good grades, it was just expected. I would have been punished if I got bad grades (I didn’t but I knew what would ever happen if I did get bad grades) not rewarded for getting good ones.

    And seriously $4,000 by the end of sophomore year??? Where’s all the money I should have earned for getting good grades? Honestly I don’t think they should get any money up front. Either they should get all the money upon graduation or the money should be put towards furthering education (college, like a scholarship type program). Or better yet in a trust for after college graduation. Since, by that age, you have a better idea of how to spend money in an effective way, instead of wasting it. If they’re trying to create better and more educate people, i.e. a better society as a whole, the money shouldn’t be wasted on Playstations and brand name jeans.

    Generations of kids succeeded in school up to this point. Why should they all the sudden be rewarded for what has been accomplished for decades, centuries? Won’t there be a bit of a shock once they get to college and are then paying to take classes instead of getting paid for doing well in those classes?

  11. How about a mandatory 529 contribution of 75% or greater of all funds acquired from these programs? Unless the family has an unmet financial needs, I don’t see the big problem with delaying a kid’s immediate gratification.

    I’m sure I was pissed if I didn’t get my Super Mario Brother’s game exactly when I wanted, but boohoo, I got over it.

  12. Rick Morley says:

    @S and Matt:

    I can understand where your suggestions are coming from. But you have to remember the context of this program. The schools are trying to improve the grades of these students who, frankly, couldn’t care less about school. If you say, “If you earn A’s in school, I’ll give you $4000 for college,” many of them will just laugh at you and continue skipping school. They probably don’t plan on going to college, or at least aren’t even thinking about college, since they’re still Freshmen in high school. That reward means nothing to them. But if you give them $4000, no strings attached, knowing full well they will probably spend it on PlayStations and such, that may give them proper motivation to study in school. At least that’s a reward they can understand and relate with, a reward that is actually meaningful to them.

  13. @ Rick,

    I understand where the money will go, and what it will likely be spent upon. As I said earlier, my biggest concern lies within the ethics of the program, not the program itself.

    You are basically rewarding a 13-15 year old kid a large sum of money for doing what they should be doing on their own.

    If the program works, and I suspect it will, I would hope a large group of sponsors can raise enough funding to go national. It sounds perfect for a large group of philanthropists or corporations looking to improve their public image.

  14. Rick Morley says:

    “You are basically rewarding [a person] for doing what they should be doing on their own.”

    Ah, the problem of government. I think this applies to nearly every aspect of life that government gets involved with. For instance, social security. Every intelligent person knows they ought to save money for retirement, and yet they don’t. Then government steps in and gives us a socialized retirement program.

    I don’t mean to hijack the topic of this thread, but I just wanted to say that I agree with you that people should take responsibiltiy and do the things they should be doing, whether saving for retirement or studying for your exams.

  15. mike says:

    It’ll work up to a point but as the years go by you’ll get diminishing returns on it. You’ll also have teachers giving students good grades just so that they get the cash. Then you’ll have the scandals. who will monitor the cash? what happens when its embezzaled. What happens if the student drops out before graduation. Who keeps the cash then? It will increase the desire/necessity of cheating. Then the fist student who gets killed because the parent was counting on the cash to get their fix. It sounds like a good idea but just like stalinist-communism it can’t work.
    So i would say its a bad idea. Work to decrease class size and increase parental involvment those are the best

  16. Jackson says:

    @ Mr. ToughMoneyLove

    > If pay for grades is what motivates students, I don’t want to hire them.

    Thanks! That leaves them for me 🙂

    Seriously though, if paying someone can guarantee they will perform well, then that’s the type of employee that I want.

    Much better then the ones that need hand-holding, coddling, and “me-time” in order to motivate them.


    Of course I can just see the next school scandal headline, “Teacher colludes with students to scam ‘Pay For Grades’ Pilot Program!”

  17. Ryan says:

    Fuck that shit, how about we use getting a good job and not having to be a piece of shit as incentive for these kids. I got a better idea, instead of using my tax dollars, make some of these kids live with someone on the street for a month and fend for themselves. Anyone who supports this has got to be the dumbest person on the face of the earth, I can’t believe they let people like this procreate.

  18. Meg says:

    There are several glaring problems with this idea, but the main one that strikes me is: how are the grades determined?? In most schools grade inflation is a HUGE problem and especially in public schools, teachers basically teach the tests, hand out “practice tests” that are the test in a very thin disguise, and then give the test. Unless you are a total uncaring moron, you get an A if you spent half an hour memorizing the practice test. And now we’re offering financial incentives further beg students not to be completely uncaring morons?

    It’s going to put a lot of pressure on teachers to give good grades, it’s going to encourage cheating, and it’s going to reward those who are already doing well and ostracize those who can’t do well no matter what (kids who aren’t that smart and/or have learning disabilites).

    Secondly, psychologists have shown that rewarding behavior that’s expected is a bad idea; it teaches kids to dislike whatever activity you are incenting, because they figure if you have to reward them just to do it, it must really suck or be unpleasant. The most recent study on this shows that rewarding your kids (with TV time or dessert or whatever) to eat their veggies makes kids 300% more likely to hate vegetables.

    With this policy, you’re teaching them to hate learning – or that it’s only worth doing for the sake of immediate monetary rewards. Both are negative. Kids should be taught to value learning for it’s own sake – not to mention there’s already a pretty strong monetary incentive attached to it called “earning potential.” And if they’re too dumb to care, then screw them. The world needs janitors, too (no offense to janitors).

  19. Jon says:

    Hey Ryan, the program is not funded by tax dollars. Get your facts straight before you post (or procreate).

  20. Ryan says:

    Dear Jon, since you have enlightened me on the facts behind this blessed program I have toned down my hatred. Thank you for opening the door. What I am more concerned with is the message that Chicago will be sending these children. In my view, the gracious and smart people of Chicago will be ‘bribing’ their children into doing what they should have been doing anyway. I’d like to see the correlation of single parent homes and children with less than satisfactory school performance. We’re essentially saying that there is NO incentive for forward advancement ANYWHERE for their future, so for the time being we’ll just throw money at them and hope that it will be enough to make them work. Shouldn’t we be encouraging the parents of these children to be more involved in their children’s lives? Didn’t your parents have to remind you to do your homework? Didn’t your parents look at your report card? Didn’t your parents go to the parent-teacher conferences? If anything, we should be holding the parents accountable. Don’t get me wrong, this project WILL make a change, there will be some children that will make more of an effort just to buy whatever it is they want. Alas, if the people of the great city of Chicago are willing to donate some money to help, then I’m all for it, although I do not think that this is the right thing to be teaching these children.

    Oh and by the way, fuck you and your family.



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