Dollars for D.C. scholars

Students at 15 Washington, D.C. middle schools have received their first pay checks for attendance, homework completion and grades, reports the Washington Post. (Click on the link if only to see the great photo with the story.) A model students can earn $100 every two weeks; the average check was $43. At two schools, students were shorted due to a computer error in reporting attendance and behavior.

Reactions varied widely, with some students bounding down the school steps on 10th Street NW near U Street, waving checks at each other and shrieking: “What d’you get? What d’you get?”

Others sat quietly and studied the pale green checks with “Harvard University” in boldface across the top. Sixth-grader Kevin Sparrow-Bey, who took in $20, said he was annoyed by the assumption that he and his classmates have to be paid to take school seriously.

“I can do the work,” said Kevin, 11, who said he gets B’s and C’s. “It don’t change nothing.”

At Shaw Middle School, tardiness is down but grades haven’t gone up.

(Principal Brian) Betts said that when students begin to see the money every two weeks — and the direct relationship between what they are paid and what they do in school — the effect will be more widespread.

Many students told the Post they’re motivated to work harder for a financial pay-out. But I wonder what it will do to their motivation in the long run.

About Joanne


  1. I’d guess that they never ever learn to learn for the sheer pleasure of it, which is very sad. I’m sure that Harvard (is that who is paying for this?) thinks they are doing a good thing, but they are only shooting themselves in the foot. If this spreads, like so many bad ideas, Harvard is going to eventually find itself unable to recruit actual scholars as students because there won’t be any left.

  2. ….or Harvard profs (or rather, TAs and instructors, I doubt many Harvard profs actually teach undergrads) will find themselves with classrooms full of students expecting some kind of “payment” for showing up or contributing in class.

  3. I wonder how long it will take before a bright 7th grader organizes a strike for higher pay.

  4. I’d guess they’ll react just like adults. People get temporary boosts of motivation when pay increases and temporary deflation of motivation when pay decreases. In the long run its up to the individual or team to find self-motivation.

    One benefit I see from these types of programs is as an entree into vouchers. Its giving students/parents a taste for controlling education expenditures.

  5. Something tells me they might have a higher success rate by offering them ringtones. I’m still not convinced that embedding this structure for learning into young minds is going to pay off in the long run. If money is their only motivator, at what point will they challenge themselves to seek knowledge?

    Hall Monitor

  6. Stacy in NJ says:

    I think it’s incredibly sad. We have to pay students to get them to accept what others are desperate and greedy for. I pretty much think it’s the end of our civilization. We need to do away with public education as it exisits. I think it’s largely responsible for the disconnect between real life and education.

  7. A study based on some old Army tests shed light on motivation factors in a way which may be relevant to this debate. See my post here.

  8. Apparently the article you mention in your blog (and don’t link to {insert dirty look}) has a title that’s pretty popular at Forbes. There are two entitled “For the Love of the Game”

    Here’s the link to the Forbes article mentioned on your blog –

    It’s about the College Sports Channel.

    Here’s the link to the Forbes article, published a week earlier, also entitled “For the Love of the Game” – – and that’s the article about intrinsic motivation.

    What might be really interesting is to track intrinsic motivation from the time kids enter school. Might make a pretty interesting study even without the tracking; just measuring intrinsic motivation by age/grade.

    I’d be willing to bet that intrinsic motivation drops off steeply after kindergarten and settles out somewhere around age fourteen or fifteen.

    If that’s true then these pay-fer-grades schemes are trying to set right what something else – my vote is for the institutional indifference of the public education system towards education – is causing to go wrong.

    Seems to me that a more efficient approach would be prevention rather then amelioration but that opens up a big can of political worms.

  9. I sometimes wonder if the problem with the US education system isn’t too much money.

  10. The penal system has been doing this for years, apparently with good results. Paying inmates two bits an hour to make license plates or work in the prison laundry may be the cheapest way possible to keep them busy and out of mischief.

  11. Soapbox Diva says:

    Is this really aimed at the kids or the parents? I can understand adults being more motivated by money than kids. I think kids generally think more in things, especially younger kids. I also think this might be hundred years too late if it was going to be tried, when there was still legal child labor to compete with. For example, my grandmother, born in 1902 in rural Kentucky, had to drop out in the third grade, in order to help her family take in laundry for income, so I can see if my grandmother had the option of being paid to stay in school that she would have stayed in school. Then again my grandmother loved school and made sure I appreciated the opportunity. None of my grandparents made it past the eighth grade because they opted to work instead. As much as I abhor the idea, I wonder if kids will receive more support to study and get good grades from parents if it something that can bring in money.

  12. Congratulations! Your post will appear in the Mole Day edition of the Carnival of Education. You can view the CoE here – – on 10/22 when the link goes live. Thank you in advance for any publicity plugs that you offer on your site.

  13. This is too scary! Here we are headed towards a depression and we are paying kids to attend school. We have people who are starving and homeless. We have elderly who can’t pay for heat and freezing to death. We have kids who have no health insurance. Somehow this scenario borders on the ridiculous.