Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Getting Greedy Over Good Grades?

This is a subject that predates blogging (and probably computers, for that matter): Should parents reward their kids with money for making good grades? Apparently, it happens a lot...
Sure, learning is its own reward. But some kids respond best to cash. Andrew Waller's grades soared when his parents started offering $5 for A's and $4 for B's. Now he pockets about $25 each report card, saving it for video games and summer camp.
"I think I would still be getting good grades, but this does help. I mean, it helps a lot," said Andrew, a 12-year old from Mobile, Ala. "I think it's a great way to motivate me."
So you want your kids to get an A, eh? Are you willing to pay?
As children return to school, many parents are deciding what prize - if any - is appropriate to offer when kids get good grades. The stakes can get pretty high.
Whatever happened to learning being its own reward? And sometimes, things can get pretty ridiculous:
Reagan Hawkins, a high school teacher in Nederland, Texas, has had students tell him they will get a new car for A's. Their parents downgrade the deal to a used car if they get B's.
"It disappoints me, honestly," Hawkins said. "I try to instill a sense of intrinsic reward in the students. I'd rather see a student want to learn for the sake of learning than learn for the sake of a car."
And sure, learning for its own sake won't transport you to school on its own, but I think that it's still a value that parents should at least try to teach in our consumer-driven society.

I never received money for getting good grades, nor was I severely punished for getting bad ones--not that there were too many of the latter, mind you; somehow, I figured out at an early age what my abilities were, so I geared my expectations accordingly. More often than not, my standard for myself was an A, though it would be relaxed a bit for certain classes (music history comes to mind). I wonder if things would have been any different if I had been given the carrot of cash rewards for getting even more A's; I was already 43rd in my high school class of 525, so I was reasonably happy with the outcome. And the one time that I was given a D in public school, Mom went to the teacher to figure out what was going on rather than automatically punishing me. Iit turned out that I had earned a C that six-weeks, but the teacher gave me the even lower grade to "send a message" to me. I don't know if there was a direct relationship or not, but I never did receive a grade that low for the rest of my schooling. I do know that the timing of that D couldn't have been worse; I had just gotten a first division on my very first trip to Solo and Ensemble that day, and I had learned that one of my original compositions had won the district level of the Reflections Contest. We came home from the celebratory steak dinner to find the offending report card in the mailbox.)

Read the whole article; it offers a wide variety of examples of how parents use grades as tools for both motivation and punishment. I'm certainly not going to judge the ones who use money, but I hope the greater lessons are being learned as well.
Adults who promise money, gifts or privileges say their children study harder when incentives are on the table. The lesson they hope to teach is that rewards require work.
The trick is making sure that students develop a natural love of learning along the way. When the gift cards and iPods go away, students had better be able to motivate themselves.
We can only hope that the love of learning is achieved before college; as a professor, I've certainly run into my fair share of students who aren't quite there yet.

So, how about a quick survey?

1) Did you ever receive money for making good grades? If so, do you think it was a positive motivational experience, or did you just go for the quick cash?

2) Were you ever punished for making bad grades? If so, what form did the punishment take?

3) Would you give your (current or future) kids money for making good grades? Punish them for bad grades?

Please respond in the comments.

A half-baked idea? In an effort to work around some new Food Police standards that prohibited the serving of french fries in the school cafeteria--even as a side dish--some schools in Arizona are now serving french bakes...or oven wedges, oven fries, potato sticks, whatever you want to call them. Some kids even like them...

1 comment:

Ms. Worley said...

OK, I'll bite and comment on this one.
I have received money for report card grades in the past... from my grandparents. My parents refused to give me money for grades, but I think that was based more on the fact that I was already getting an allowance, and in my parents' book that was plenty ($5.00 a month in elementary school, a rate which held until I was entering high school). My grandparents gave me a dollar for each A, 50 cents for a B, and deducted 50 cents for a C. I can't say it was much of a motivation for me... just a nice bonus every few weeks.
But I was pretty much always an over acheiver. At least in elementary and middle schools.
I don't remember being punished for bad grades. When I failed Pre-Cal for one six weeks in HS, my parents made me get a tutor for an hour once a week. That struck me more as common sense, not so much as punishment.
My dad did offer a substantial reward for a good SAT score: tickets to a Dave Matthews Band concert and the right to skip school that day. This was for a score over 1400. I made the cut but then the concert was sold out so I never got to collect.... hmmmmm.... I think I'll be calling my dad now....