Schools Paying Students to Learn is a Mistake

It’s a sad day when we have to pay our children to learn.  But even more distressing is what they are learning from this experience.

MoneyThe New York Times recently reported on how the school systems in the city are paying kids to do well on each test and exam, with some kids earning as much a $50 per exam.

I nearly fell out of my chair when I read this article.  It’s one thing for parents to reward their kids for doing a good job.  I got a little pocket change on report card day for any As and Bs I brought home.  A little incentive never hurts.

It’s an entirely different thing for the school to bribe students to do their work.  This concept is absurd – on so many levels.

Firstly, the obvious financial impact on the school system must be considered.  We have schools in this country that can’t afford to buy the books and other supplies they need to properly teach our kids, let alone afford to pay students.

I understand that some school districts are better off than others, but surely they can find a better use for the money – more advanced classes, extracurricular programs, or tutors for the students doing poorly.  How about a class in managing finances?  Anything, but bribing the kids.

Secondly, we are setting up a precedent to teach these kids that they don’t have to do anything in life unless there’s something in it for them. 

Learning is fundamental for succeeding in life, in my opinion.  And learning is not something you do just in grade school – it’s a lifelong process.  If children don’t realize the value of learning for the pure fact that knowledge will make their life better, then they will never value learning.

What kind of world would we live in if we all stopped learning unless we were paid to do so?  How will these children deal with other tasks in their life – marriage, parenting – when they find out that they are “paid” to do them?

Next, we aren’t talking about pocket change here.  The article mentioned $50 a test for fourth graders.  What is a fourth grader going to do with 50 plus bucks?  Are they financially savvy enough to handle this kind of money?

The article mentions a school in a low-income district.  While I sure the families in this district can use the extra cash, when did fourth graders become breadwinners?  And who says this money makes it home?  Are we just financing vices – drugs, gambling, gang-related activities – with this extra cash?

It is one thing to reward a student that goes above and beyond, who does something outstanding.  It’s another when that incentive is expected and if everyone gets it all the time.

Give out certificates, the occasional gift card.  Make a big deal out of extraordinary events.  I believe it positive feedback.  But let’s not set up our kids to fail in the future by setting up unrealistic expectations of how the world works.

Photo by [Flickr User]. (License: Creative Commons Attribution)

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