Paying Students for Better Grades?

So an interesting email landed in my inbox today. 

In it, the author—who I think is a part of a team marketing the new movie based on the popular book Freakonomics—pointed me to this YouTube excerpt from the film, which spotlights a study designed to discover whether paying students cold hard cash has a positive impact on their academic performance:

Crazy, isn't it?  Made me feel kind of dirty, actually.  To see schools appealing to such extrinsic and materialistic awards to motivate kids just doesn't feel right. 

But if it works, can we really knock it?  If improved academic performance is what we care about and cash is an incentive that changes behaviors, wouldn't we be stupid not to consider it?

All I know is that I'm going to download the video in iTunes right now.  I kind of want to know what the outcomes of the study were! 

12 thoughts on “Paying Students for Better Grades?

  1. Chris Wejr

    I think the one statements sums it up, “can we provide incentives that work as cheaply and quickly as possible”. To many short term solutions in education today. Thanks for sharing this video and your thoughts!

  2. Tiphanie Owens

    I really see what you are saying about the bad and good motivations that we seem to have labeled. Perhaps the biggest issue that I have with paying children to learn is what happens when the money stops? Does that mean all the hard work and dedication that students were showing is also going to disappear? I agree with you that we need to focus on what things do motivate students to learn and try but also look into what makes students give up and not care about their education. Thank you for posting. It really made me think about why I disliked the idea of giving children money to learn. Thanks again! πŸ˜€

  3. kathie

    I have to wonder if we are teaching kids that the final outcome of hard work, discipline, and a committed attitude- all required to make the grades and have no more than 1 unexcused absence – is money! I’m working really hard right now in graduate school to become a teacher and I know my outcome will not be a huge paycheck but rather a sense of knowing I am doing something to make a difference in this world & that I will have a vocation that I am passionate about. Didn’t I see kids toasting in wine glasses and the number of ‘awesome’ from that one student when he was checking out that Limo was a bit overwhelming. I think these type of rewards are some of our cultures most enticing to partake in but also are some of the most self-serving. I agree with the individual who posted these students shouldn’t be given cash but how about a money towards a grant or scholarship for college? Bottom line for me- there are more rewards in life worth working for than money and entertainment. Is this really the best way to teach students about the rich possibility of life’s rewards?

  4. Bill Ferriter

    Tiphanie wrote:
    I still think the idea of having money as an incentive really would be teaching the kids the wrong values. What they should value is the education itself and not the money.
    Hey Tiphanie,
    First, thanks for stopping by…I love your idea about putting any incentive cash towards a college scholarship. That could be a good middle ground in this debate.
    Your question above has me thinking, though: Sure a kid SHOULD value an education above money. Spoken like a true teacher.
    But the truth is that’s just not the case. There are TONS of kids who don’t value an education at all. And in the poorest communities, the lure of quick cash is WAY more motivating than the intangible benefits of an education.
    Should we ignore that motivation just because it doesn’t feel right to us?
    If our goal is to motivate students—which is a fun little cliche that we love to sling around in education—why are we judging some motivations as good and other motivations as bad?
    I agree that paying kids for grades makes my skin crawl, but so does seeing thousands of dropouts every year. Maybe it’s time we start to figure out what DOES motivate kids—even when those things don’t represent motivations that we value—-and tap into them.
    Just thinking out loud here.

  5. Tiphanie B. Owens

    Hello! I am a student in Dr. Stange’s EDM310 class. My blog spot is . I think this idea of paying students is a little bit crazy. My first question would be how much of a difference did this actually make on students grades, absences, and behavior? Even if it was extremely successful my next question is where is this money coming from? Is this coming from tax payers because I can not imagine that they are going to expect the public school systems to hand out this money when they are already in trouble. I also find it hard to believe they would give these students cash. I think it would be more productive to give these students money towards a college education such as a grant or scholarship. This way at least the money they earn is put towards there education in the long run. I still think the idea of having money as an incentive really would be teaching the kids the wrong values. What they should value is the education itself and not the money.

  6. Ginny Paisie

    If something works, and it’s ethically wrong, we should try it anyway? How about threatening them with bodily harm? If it works, we should try that, too? Maybe I’m missing something, or maybe I’ve had a long week, but this idea is reprehensible to me.

  7. Dina

    Oh Bill. Don’t get me started. πŸ™‚
    In lieu, I will point readers towards this research (Ed Deci):
    And this author (Daniel Pink):
    And this comment (me):
    Improved academic performance is *not* what we care about. Improved academic performance *in the service of* creating healthy, happy, curious, creative citizens is what we care about.
    In light of this service, the question we must ask ourselves about cash incentives is exactly the question we must ask ourselves about technology in the classroom: What does it give us– and what does it take away?

  8. Teacha

    I am definitely going to take a look at the whole film. As an fyi you can add it to your Netflix Que. I just did, plus I am going to avoid the 10.99 iTunes fee.

  9. Julie

    On January 30, 2009 Arne Duncan told CNN in an interview that he has already launched a program in Chicago that pays students to make good grades and he was considering it as a possibility for the entire country.
    Taxpayers pay for buildings, teachers, administrators, textbooks, and in some cases 2 out of 3 meals for children. Now our elected leaders want to spend our tax dollars paying students too? Just to get them to take advantage of what is sitting in front of them? The failure here is not schools, it is families that don’t support education, and a government that refuses to look anywhere else except in the school building to see why kids are not performing. You want kids to do well in school, then make them do their homework, make them study for tests, make them go to bed at a decent hour. In short, be a responsible PARENT.
    If we start holding parents as accountable for how a student performs, as we hold teachers, we will see a dramatic rise in the all important test scores.

  10. Bill Ferriter

    What’s shaking, Freaky! First, know that I miss you.
    Second, I’m not sure who’s paying for the experiment because the clip doesn’t mention that.
    But an interesting question for you: Let’s say the ‘government’ is paying for the experiment and it’s cheaper than anything else that we’ve tried to improve our schools.
    Would you be in favor of it then?
    Hope you’re well..
    Mr. F

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