Paying students to perform

New York City may start paying students for high test scores, reports the New York Times.

Across the country, educators have been experimenting with cash incentives. A program in Chelsea, Mass., gave children $25 for perfect attendance. Some Dallas schools pay children $2 for each book they read.

But the idea is controversial. Many educators maintain, among other objections, that children have to learn for the love of it, not for cash.

New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has proposed “giving cash to poor adults to encourage them to do everything from keeping their children in school to seeking preventive medical care.” He’s interested in paying students.

Economist Roland Fryer proposes paying fourth graders at least $5 and as much as $25 for scores on a standardized test that will be introduced in the fall; seventh graders could get as much as $50. Each participating school would receive $5,000. Private donors would have to provide the money.

On Critical Mass, Erin O’Connor is dubious about the idea.

It does seem to imply that building academic skills has no intrinsic value. And it’s sure to whet students’ appetite for more payments. That said, I have no problem with putting money in a scholarship fund in the name of students who earn good scores on standardized tests.

I won a gold cup for perfect attendance in fourth grade. OK, it was plastic. My teacher had won it in a dance contest at the Hotel Fontainebleu in Miami Beach. I cherished it.

About Joanne


  1. I wonder what’ll happen when the kids organize? After all, if they’re getting paid to do a job they ought to enjoy the benefits of unionization. I’m probably not going to be treated to the spectacle of kids striking for higher pay for their grades but who knows?

    Alternatively, I’m glad to see the good, old days are back. The job scene just hasn’t been the same since all those oppressive child labor laws were passed. Kudos to Mayor Bloomberg for being so progressive while not ignoring the lessons of the past. Who’ll he appoint school superintendent, Fagin?

    You really can’t make this stuff up, can you?

    Kids are dropping out left and right. Many of the graduates are differentiated from the drop-outs by their possession of a diploma but not by the acquisition of much more education. Seems like the system can hardly educate black kids at all and doesn’t do much, if any, if you’re white and poor.

    Rather then take a hard look at the system, rather them examine time-worn assumptions, the plan is to turn time spent in the education system into a particularly low-paying job.

    Brilliant, simply brilliant.

  2. So, some people think that forcing kids to do work they’d rather not do is ok but paying them far below minimum wage is not ok. Sounds like third world sweatshops should just stop paying their employees and everyone would be fine with it.

  3. I don’t think you can look at paying elementary kids as employment. It would be more like a reward.

    If Johnny’s parents are going through a divorce he’s mad because his XBox broke last night, he’s not going to perform very well on the test. If he was employed at school, does that mean the school can fire him for poor performace?

    These elementary students are not creating a product on the market where wages would be due. They are learning to be marketable in their adult life.

    If paying students help resolve an immediate crisis, I’m all for it until a better plan developed that would promote the importance of education.

  4. According to the papers, we have difficulty keeping the teachers and administrators honest. How much harder will it be if we pay the students to become part of the conspiracy?

    Still money has always been the primary motivator in a capitalist society. If we pay for A’s we will get more A’s, but will the A’s indicate mastered knowledge or satisfied greed?

  5. I have no problem with paying for grades per se. I loathe the morality play of education.

    The problem I have is that test scores only partially correlate to effort. While I’m fine with paying kids who don’t work hard but get good scores, I’m worried about the kids who will bust their butts and still not do well.

    So long as we also work on why some students don’t improve, no problem.

  6. Har! What’s the matter Abdul, upset because the filthy, money-grubbing capitalist exploiters of the working class are actually doing something about poverty and all you whiners are being shown up for the frauds you are? Yeah, I guess I’d be upset too.

    You know what’s really stupid about this proposal? It monetizes the failure of the public education system.

    The public education system, inherently ineffective at educating kids where it isn’t almost purposefully destructive of the desire to learn, will now provide monetary incentives to get kids to do what kids were born to do but were deterred from doing by the public education system.

    More then any other animal, more then our closest, hairy relatives, us humans are learning animals. But you come to school and wind up in a situation that only the best, most determined teachers can prevent you from learning that learning is boring at least, humiliating and frightening at worst. And now these mutts, overseeing the system responsible for the situation propose to change nothing about the system that makes monetary rewards for learning a reasonable proposition.

    gbl3rd wrote:

    According to the papers, we have difficulty keeping the teachers and administrators honest.

    It does present a pretty horrifying picture. The teachers shaking down the students for good grades and the principal shaking down the teachers. Might have the makings of an episode of “The Sopranos”.

  7. Twill00 says:

    Being paid to do something is not inherently antithetical to enjoying doing it. In fact, many rewards systems automatically are internalized by the rewardee. The important thing is making the mental connection between reading and pleasure, preferably making a permanent connection.