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Your Take: Pay for Academic Performance for Children

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When I was younger (starting around 2nd grade), my mom said that for every 100% I got on a weekly spelling test, I’d get a dollar as my reward. The spelling tests started all the way back in the first grade but really got going in second and third grades, but I’d routinely get a hundred in part because I was brilliant and in part because they told us the set of words ahead of time (my mom knew this). There would be maybe fifty words and then ten or twenty would appear on the test, it was a cinch to get a hundred and anyone who didn’t simply didn’t try or didn’t care. Anyway, as I grew older, the 100s were harder and the prize was made larger until I was in high school when it would be $10 per 100. By high school, though, I didn’t get 100s unless it was something trivial like a health test or something meaningless, so I never went to collect. Anyway, I ended up being a decent student, in part because of the incentive my mom provided, but this is a issue that’s a hot button topic for many parents. Should they “bribe” (or “reward,” as the proponents would say) their children for performance?

My opinion is that you can and should bribe or reward them for performance because that’s how the world works. You get a good SAT score, you are rewarded with admittance into a good college or university. If you get good grades in college, you’re rewarded with a good job. If you perform well at your job, you’re rewarded with more money (maybe!). Giving children incentives for strong academic performance isn’t going to ruin them for the world because the world rewards strong performance with money as well.

What prompted this Your Take post was an article from the New York Times where students were being paid to perform well academically.

What’s your take on this?

{ 20 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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20 Responses to “Your Take: Pay for Academic Performance for Children”

  1. bRobert says:

    My intention is for academic performance to be the primary means of “income” for my children. Right now, my oldest daughter who is in k-4 gets a certain amount for every page of homework she completes. I really want my children to see education as something they do that has value. If the strategy works, they will get scholarships and do well all the way through college.

    There was never an incentive for me to perform when I was in school, there was only an occasional “Good Job” when I received a decent grade occasionally. And I have always been a poor student. I get A’s in my college courses when I limit myself to one or two classes at a time.

    I would my children’s academic experience to be very positive and rewarding, not something they are required to do with no immediate benefit. Most kids do not understand saving money or working years toward an eventual goal. They don’t have the time perspective. I would like my kids to have the same immediate rewards or consequences I have to prepare them for adulthood.

  2. If I was going to send my kids to school (which I don’t plan on doing), I would reward them financially for good performance because they don’t have a choice about going. If you’re going to force someone to do something, they don’t really have an incentive to do well at it unless you give them a tangible reward.

    I disagree that “that’s how the world works.” Getting into a good college is a lot more complicated than acing the SATs. Good grades in college have very little to do with getting a good job. Is a 4.0 in English or video game design going to help me get a better job? Is a 4.0 in medical coding going to get me more money than someone who got a 2.5? Good performance at your job *might* lead to better pay, but the connection is pretty tenuous in most jobs–perhaps a 4% pay increase after a year of good performance, and even then there’s a maximum rate of pay depending on your position, and if the budget’s not good you might not get it, and…

  3. Posco says:

    Mmmmm, I’m not so sure. While a small financial incentive is a-ok, it’s not how the world works. Education is a about a LOT more than financial reward. As a parent, I value the aspects of discipline, training, self-confidence, critical thinking, etc. Acquiring these qualities should be rewarded, but the reward should be MUCH MORE than financial (but not at the exclusion of a little cash). That is, major educational achievements such as an A on a final exam or a major project should be rewarded with love, appreciation, and having a night out on the town. Wouldn’t you agree that this is much more than a Benjamin, especially coming from a parent?

    Your own experience tells that the cash reward was only part of the story, as you became a decent student even without striving for the 100% scores and the accompanying prize. It shows that you had some other motivator than money. This should be increasingly true as the student moves upward.

  4. billspaced says:

    The subject of kids and money is a tricky one with respect to allowances and “pay for performance.” Just because we’re paid for work as adults based on how well we that work (and that is subject to disagreement, by the way) doesn’t mean that’s the way we ought to raise our children.

    For example, the work world is very political: Throwing people under the bus, as they say, is a known practice in the business world that is regularly condoned and rewarded. However, I don’t really want to teach my children that. I’d rather that they just be so remarkable that they’d never find themselves on the “receiving” end of such treatment, but…we all think our kids are remarkable, don’t we?

    I’m struggling to come up with a “best” way to deal with this. I have a 2 year old and a 5 month old and the day will come quickly when I’m faced with giving them allowances, paying for chores, rewarding them for good academic work, etc.

    In short, I don’t have the answers. But I’d sure like to hear some compelling arguments on all sides of the topic.

    Thanks for a great thought-provoking post!!!

  5. Lord says:

    There is nothing like money to bring out rationality on the small scale and fear and greed on the large.

  6. jim says:

    Posco – Will your employer shower you with love and hugs if you do a good job? Is that what you expect instead of money? I’m not saying you don’t shower love, praise, and other things… I’m just saying you don’t cause harm by offering financial incentives.

  7. I know I’ve read commentary that money for grades (and even for chores) is not so great, though I can’t recall if they came out and called it harmful. I would not like it if we did it and our kids came out with a concentration on immediate or short-term rewards. But I don’t have any sense as to any cause/effect or correlation. It sounds like you (Jim) continued to try in school even after the financial reward went away. My take on kids in general is that they’re all different, and different things motivate different kids — and different kids will take different lessons out of the same incentive system.

  8. Julie says:

    As a high school teacher, I have found that incentives are really hit and miss. I have tried to encourage students to complete homework on a daily basis with a food reward — as expected, only a few rose to the occasion. Those who never did homework still did not, those who sometimes did homework still only did some, and those who mostly did homework were the ones who could change their behavior to reach that expectation. I think most of this result came from the fact that my students are already 16-18 year olds with much more life experience. I have found it more effective to reward exemplary behavior after I see it and making a point that the person did it without expecting something.

    Therefore, I think that if you were to set up incentives with your kids, the most important thing is to make sure that the structure is clear and you stay to your word. Also, it may be helpful to make it a challenge or a game so that the first time your child reaches his/her goal, you challenge him/her to a higher goal. For example, maybe two 100s will receive a reward instead of one. Also, I have found that if you reinforce these incentives with the idea that they are making you proud by what they are doing, you can eventually phase out these incentives.

    By the way, I’m Jim’s sister and I don’t think I ever got $1 for a 100! (Though, I was always a better student……*wink*)

  9. Master Phu says:

    I agree with the pay for performance but it’s also how I was raised. My parents reinforced the importance of education in me at a young age. As long as my nine week report card was full of A’s, I would get $20 per A and never have to do any chores around the house. If I came home with anything lower than all A’s (even just one B), I didn’t get any money, had to do chores around the house and the tv and video games were taken away until the next report card. It was a feast or famine system but it kept me on the straight and narrow.

    Working Rachel – It depends on the type of job you’re going for. In my industry (hedge funds) employers will only take entry-level applicants that have a 3.5 GPA from a Top 10 University. So grades do translate to a better job (better in this case the highest paying).

  10. TC says:

    School is a child’s job. Can you imagine going to work every day and getting an “atta boy” rather than a paycheck? Especially if you worked a full day and then had to take extra work home?

    Some children are intrinsically motivated to do well. I was this child. I got good grades because I liked to. I’m also the adult that works very hard at my job with no real money benefit for putting in more than the bare minimum effort. However, many people aren’t like this. Heck yes, reward kids for doing well in school with a reward almost all of us can understand, money.

  11. rdzins says:

    I have to disagree with some of this, but it is a very hard subject. I find now days kids “expect” to be paid for everything, if they are not “paid” they won’t do nothing. Kids catch on to these things at a very young age and can learn to manipulate them to get what they want, which is not always for there best interest.

    As adults we are expected to do our job when we go to work, and if we don’t, yes we get fired. Part of us getting paid is performance on our job, which consists of more than just brains, it also consists of working with others, doing our best, and being a part of the team.

    I have to say my parents never paid me, and never paid for my schooling, and I still have a value of what education can do.

    As a parent I want my kids to know that education is very important and will definately open many doors for them, however it has to be in there interest to want to do well, not just mine. I don’t see how money can make them see education as valuable.

    I think knowing they do a good job, are doing well, and giving it there best shot. That is all I can really ask, not every kid is going to get an A, and if they tried really hard for there C they still would get no reward for it. I don’t see how this would be a rewarding idea considering we are all different,(and not everyone is capable of getting straight a’s) and that the only goal here is an “A” not hard work, or ethics, just an A.

  12. A says:

    #1. “it was a cinch to get a hundred and anyone who didn’t simply didn’t try or didn’t care.” From the dyslexic kid who spent all week studying with mom and then cried at home when she managed to only get two or three of the words right- it wasn’t that easy for all of us. Actually, spelling is still really hard for me.

    #2. Your mom started with small and rational incentives. $1 per spelling test is reasonable.

    I never got paid for grades, but when mom and I would work really hard on ways to make sure I read the numbers in math correctly, and I started building coping skills for test taking, she was always excited.

    I have always been smart- its just hard with letters and numbers and the order of those. Senior year I was in physics, it was super hard to figure out elements and remember chemical compounds because they are nonsensical letter combinations but I understand the principals and knew how to do everything. After crying to my mom because of my bad grades she talked to the teacher and I took the tests after school, alone with her and she and I would talk though all the equations so I made sure I saw them correctly.

    Thats why I am a good student, because my parents cared and taught me there was always a way and to be honest when you are having difficulties. Your mom cared about how you did in school- just showed it differently in a different situation.

    Attention is what matters.

  13. jim says:

    A: My apologies if I offended you but I was speaking only about that particular spelling test, not about spelling tests as whole.

    As for attention, I wholeheartedly agree, the attention was also there but buttressed with the incentive. I think that it’s that lack of attention that has left a lot of students today with a poor academic experience.

  14. I never received money for grades, and I was a pretty good student (I went to MIT…). Occasionally, I received a gift for my report card, but it was so rare that I never expected one.

    Like some of the other posters, I disagree that doing well at one’s job equals better pay. That’s how it should work, but all too often it does not. I find that I am quite motivated by my boss actually saying, “Atta boy,” than I am by getting a 4% raise. I am motivated to work hard to please others (and myself) and not so much because there is money at the end of the road.

    It’s not clear from the post, but one could certainly argue from what was written that the incentive failed to continue to work since he only got 100% on “trivial” tests later. Surely he could have worked harder on some easy but non-trivial tests to get the prize?

    Master Phu confuses “better” with more money, which is exactly what he learned (one could argue) from the money incentive in grade school. I have had great jobs that paid next to nothing, and crappy jobs that paid TONS of money. Guess which one I would rather work?

    An analogy to this discussion is that when training dogs, you start by making them work for treats, and transition them to working for praise. You can’t bring food into a competition obedience ring.

    Ultimately, it seems to me that if we show our kids that education is all about money, then they will “value” education as a means to make money. I would rather try to get my kids to see education as a means to better oneself in any number of ways, one of which might be to increase income, and have them work hard for this sake, rather than following the money.

  15. Neer Patel says:

    My parents used various methods to entice me to earn better grades..

    The one thing they did different was, they made me create budget with my money. When I got paid for the months worth of good grades, house work, gifts, etc. I had to apply it to my budge.. 50% goes to savings, 30% goes to new items(toys, cloths.. anything my parents wouldn’t buy), 10% goes to a charity, and 10% goes in my pocket(for candy…)

    I had a bank register, that I had to keep up with.

    This was great.. sucked at times.. but when I wanted something big.. I knew I had to save up for it! It helps start my saving habit.. and prevents me from splurging too much now!

  16. Mel says:

    I have a problem with paying kids for grades (or chores). I understand that as an adult, you get paid for doing your work. But grades are different – particularly if you have more than one child.

    Growing up we never got paid for grades, I was the child who always had A’s and never had to be told to do her homework. For me it was simple and fun. My sister on the other hand had the opposite experience, and even the best of report cards for her had only half A’s on it. My parents knew it was harder for her, and never wanted to reward me when (honestly) she was often the one who worked harder and achieved less success. So it’s not so simple as a money for grades situation. How to do it when I have my own children, I still don’t know.

    I am adamantly against paying for chores – because regular chores around the house are one’s contribution to the family. You help out and clean up after yourself as a matter of good hygiene and consideration for others.

  17. saladdin says:

    Nothing meaningfull to add. Just after reading these comments I am glad in my decision not to have kids. Parents can’t even agree on simple things such as spelling tests. I’d love to hear all of your opinions on discussing sex with kids. That would be entertainment.

    I was never paid for grades but I knew what I would get if I brought home failing grades. My father wore it around his waist to hold his pants up…

    saladdin

  18. Flexo says:

    saladdin: “I’d love to hear all of your opinions on discussing sex with kids.” I think all parents can agree that “sex with kids” is bad. Anyway……

    It’s important for children to understand the intrinsic value of studying and achieving rather than being taught that only the things you get paid for are worth doing. Monetary rewards may be motivating in the short term, but if they are overdone, it could result in the expectation of monetary reward for other efforts and less motivation when the possibility of monetary rewards is not present.

  19. The Key Man says:

    Like you, I am also brilliant. When I was a student, I never got paid for any of the grades I got. But I got straight A’s anyways. My parent’s didn’t see the need to pay me (even though I often suggested it). For me they didn’t need to. I was going to get the good grades whether they paid me or not.

    Now, not every student is going to be like me. I have seven siblings and they were not all good students. They were all bright, but they didn’t all apply themselves. Not sure if they just didn’t want to, didn’t see the point, or purposely wanted to rebell.

    Depending on the child, I can see how it can be beneficial to incentivize good grades. In order to get a low performing or uninterested child to participate more in school, sometimes drastic measures (a.k.a. bribing) may be in order.

  20. DZ says:

    I am wondering about an incentive for covering college costs. Has anyone heard of a parent offering to pay for half of college, then an additional quarter for following the rules and not getting into trouble, and the last quarter if a minimum GPA is maintained for the semenster, like a 2.5?


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