Flying in and out of Chicago, I've been reading over the past few months about the Chicago Public Schools paying high school freshman and sophomores for their grades:
“…some Chicago public schools began paying freshmen and sophomores $50 per A, $35 per B and $20 per C.”
I first heard about this program while waiting in line for a restaurant (the Bongo Room has the best brunch ever, by the way). I overheard a woman say “CPS is starting to pay students for grades… that's great!!!!”
No, it's dumb.
Dr. Deming wrote so effectively about how extrinsic rewards often do nothing but drain people of their natural intrinsic rewards. We see this in the workplace with annual performance review and incentive bonus systems and the dysfunctions that often come with them. Why would we start doing this to students so early in life? Dr. Deming would have not only said “Don't pay for grades” — he argued for the abolition of grades altogether! Even grades were an extrinsic motivation that drained students of their natural intrinsic motivation for learning.
In the linked article, there are “Pro” and “Con” arguments from two different high school students.
The “Pro” student argues:
“I was a little surprised when I read the program was Harvard-designed. Surely it's common sense. Money is a huge incentive â€” it's what motivates most jobs and careers.”
Hmmmm…. Harvard-designed. You can draw whatever conclusions about Harvard's ability to know what works in the real world.
Yes, we need money for housing, shelter, and other things, but most high achievers are driven by a desire for accomplishment or other drivers beyond money. I guess the Harvard folks aren't familiar with Maslow's “Hierarchy of Needs?” Beyond a certain basic sustenance level, money isn't the motivator that the “Pro” student makes it out to be.
“Money gives students a short-term goal, instant gratification and a tangible reason for doing well.”
Oh great, like we need more instant gratification in U.S. society. Sheesh. Short-term thinking and incentives… I guess the students will be prepared for the “real world.” But this isn't the “Lean world” — a world (small as it may be) that focuses on the long-term, as Dr. Deming also taught (“constancy of purpose.”)
The “Con” student shows a lot of wisdom for her 14 years. She calls it a “bribe” and asks:
“Are Chicago public schools really doing so poorly that they literally have to beg kids to get good grades by offering to pay them? Apparently.”
Ha — she gets it. She continues:
“By paying students for good grades, schools and parents are teaching students the wrong reason for doing well in school. I know plenty of people, including me, who don't need an incentive to do well in school.”
The comments section is even better. The first commenter writes:
“I disagree with students receiving pay for good grades. This sort of reward system sets a student up for failure in life. When a student becomes motivated by external rewards (ie money) they start to always expect it. In real life, this doesn't always happen. Employees get pay cuts because of budget issues. I guess that means they shouldn't do a good job because they aren't getting rewarded for it?”
Bingo. That person understands the psychology of how people will cheat to make their incentive (something that happens in the working world):
“Also, would getting paid for good grades encourage students to cheat just so they will have spending money?”
If the grade is the goal, not the learning, all sorts of bad things might happen. What about some unethical teacher who gives an unearned A to a student if the student kicks back half of the incentive? I'm not saying ALL teachers would do that, but I would bet it has happened at least once. The pressure for grade inflation (if anything, from pharents) will be there, one way or another, because now you're “costing me money” if you give a B or a C for a class.
The 2nd commenter links to an article that highlights all of the research that shows that “pay for grades” doesn't work. The article also points out how widespread and popular these misguided programs are, unfortunately.
There's just too many dysfunctions introduced for this “pay for grades” to be a net positive.
Is this happening in other schools in your part of the country (or world)? What do you think of this practice??
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