Should Kids Get Paid for Good Grades?


    I find myself having a particularly interesting view on whether or not it is a good idea to reward high school students with cash for good grades. I’m 21 years old and am currently a college senior majoring in English Education at Chico State. I’m young enough to remember how I thought and what motivated me as a high-schooler, and I think myself to be old and “wise” enough to want to give my 15 year old self a smack in the head for treating school as lazily as I did. Straight C’s used to be a victory for a me. And I know, without a doubt, that if the teacher were to give out, say, twenty dollars for A’s, maybe five dollars for B’s, I  probably would have tried a lot harder. It’s not like parents that are able to don’t provide backdoor incentive for their kids anyways, it’s just now a looming thought to institute incentives to kids, some of whom have parents that may not even be able to offer an incentive of any kind, other than that being at school is not being at home, and being at school is what kids are supposed to do for the first 18 years of their lives, and if they’re lucky and do well enough, get to pay or get a in debt to do another 4 more at state or university college; and if they’re smart, lucky, and hardworking, get to pay or be debted again for graduate work or a master’s degree.

Of course, the end result is supposed to be a big paying job; that’s the mindset. But where’s the incentive for the first 18 years, 21 years, 25 years, when you’re being told what you’re working for, what you’re paying for, is the ability to make money for yourself, and maybe to do what you want to do in life. Many students have to work jobs on the side just to afford the luxury that is higher education. If you’re one that doesn’t chase after the money, then you’re one of the lucky ones, who either escaped the capitalistic and standardized conditioning of the educational system or had parents well off and encouraging enough to hammer in with effect the cliché that money doesn’t buy happiness. But can it buy good grades? Does it buy hard work? Well…I think the answer more often than not is yes.

I can imagine some kid saying to their parents, “I hate school, why don’t I get paid to go to school and do the work?”

“Because that’s what your supposed to do.”

“Well, would you work if you didn’t get paid, and were told it’s what you’re supposed to do?”

Probably not, but it isn’t exactly the same thing.

This idea is fascinating, beyond whether or not it would work, because it doesn’t take much to realize that money is in fact what people work for—even teenagers. But the implications of paying middle or high-schoolers for a letter on their work and report cards leaves a strange taste in my mouth for some reason.

For one, giving high school students money for good grades—never mind the more radical idea to pay students for attendance—would most likely arise the never-before-thought scenario of students actually lying to their parents about their grades. A humorous thought that still speaks to a potential, yet ironic danger of paying for good grades. Imagine some kid getting straight A’s and having 100 dollars in pocket. Imagine thousands and thousands of them! And obviously the most glaring issue with this idea is where the money’s going to come from to pay these kids. Teachers are barely paid as it is, so realistically this idea is about as far off as American teacher’s chances are of being paid in proportion to their worth.

Well I’m ambivalent, considering I don’t even know if letter grades are the best way to judge a student or offer incentive. Let me know what you think. 

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Kristin Mercer July 05, 2013 at 01:00 PM
You hit on the key Nick - motivation. Are we motivated more by internal rewards (doing what we love) or external (money?). Get this: I'm currently running for Belmont City Council. I'll spend more money campaigning to GET the job than it pays in a full year - so I'm not doing it for $$. And it's Belmont, so I'm not doing it for fame. It's for the internal reward of improving my community. I recently saw a video of world champion yo-yo'ers - amazing skill! The challenge for an educator is to help youth identify their passion - whatever subject/field/pursuit that inspires them, and internally motivates them to push for excellence. Kristin Mercer
TM July 06, 2013 at 01:10 PM
Let's say there is a pot of gold out there to reward students for good grades. But now with the modern 'device' age, how much of that work would truly come from the individual creative brain as opposed to sources from the internet? I would have to believe the papers-for-sale business would really take off. And the few that were in that business were the ones really being 'rewarded.'
Stacie Chan (Editor) July 10, 2013 at 01:00 PM
Growing up, my dad actually used to pay my sister and I for our grades. When the report card came, the monetary reward only brought a fleeting sense of delight. The true sense of joy came at seeing a job well done and that all our hard work had paid off. *That* lasted throughout each semester.
Louis Gascoigne July 10, 2013 at 01:07 PM
There is already a monetary incentive for grades, and it's a lot more rewarding than a $20 bill. With good grades you have more options in terms of schooling provided you can also get a decent score on college entry tests. Schooling options open career options after school. Getting bad grades limits the student's options in later life and will shut off potential careers many of which can be quite lucrative. My father explained this to me when I was a kid, it made sense then, and it makes sense now.
merehartnett July 10, 2013 at 01:12 PM
There have been many studies on this with varied results. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-01-27-grades_N.htm
Joan S. Dentler (Editor) July 10, 2013 at 07:30 PM
Great first blog Nick! Thanks for jumpstarting this conversation.


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