Should Students Be Paid to Achieve?

By Faith Ajayi

Should money and other material possessions be incentives for students to perform well in school? What happens when the school administration no longer has abundant money? What happened to the good old joy of learning and wanting to gain knowledge? What happens when parents have reached their limit and cannot afford to buy another gift for students? Paying students for good grades is causing a major debate in schools across the nation.

Schools in at least a dozen states plan to reward their students for excellent performance. In New York City, fourth and seventh graders in sixty schools are eligible to win up to $500 for improving their scores on the city's English and math tests given throughout the school year. Those students who have exemplary attendance will also be rewarded. Baltimore schools chief promised to give high school students as much as $110 each to improve their scores on state graduation exams. Exxon/Mobil funded a program in seven states: Arkansas, Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington. The program will pay students $100 for each passing grade on advanced placement college-prep exams.

The positive aspect of this plan is that it might help low income and minority students. School districts hope these incentives will appeal to these students and encourage them to attend classes on more days. It would also encourage them to take challenging courses and excel in them. According to USA Today, the program resulted in a 30% rise in the number of students with high SAT and ACT scores and an 8% rise in college-going students in Texas. These programs also encourage students by demonstrating that the school system cares about them and wants them to succeed to the point that they will give away money.

The negative aspect: the students can become dependent on the incentives. The money and other accolades can become the single motivation of students performing well in school. When the money is gone, the good grades and achievement can also go with it. When students go off to college, and realize that nobody pays them to do well or to attend classes, they may become less focused, and their grades can experience a dramatic reduction. Another disadvantage of paying students for good grades is that students who are underachievers fail because they're inconsistent. If they slip and get a poor grade, they may figure that they're not going to get the reward and give up.

I do not believe in paying students money for good grades. Students that are self-motivated will make the great grades with or without the monetary award. Those who need small money to persuade them to perform excellently will eventually demand more money and when it's not given to them, they may rebel and stop trying to do their work at all. Students should be given trophies, public acknowledgement and other forms of encouragement when they perform well in school.

By Anna Kinsman |  June 4, 2008; 2:05 PM ET Editorial
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