Friday, November 19, 2010
Should Kids Be Paid for Their Performance in School?
Then there was my ultimate achievement in 6th grade when we were given the assignment of writing a science report and told explicitly by our hard-ass male teacher that no one would receive an A+. Did I mention this was back in the day when it was still legal and appreciated by some parents that he was one of those teachers who had a thick wooden paddle, complete with holes drilled into it, hanging in his closet, always at the ready? In regards to telling us about the grade thing before hand, I guess he just wanted us to know that up front. Well, guess what? I did the impossible! I received a big A+ circled in red ink. Ahhh, I can see it now. It was a huge surprise but perhaps it was just some sort of psychological trick for underachievers to prove him wrong, but whatever. My paper was about, The Eye: The Human Camera, which was simply amazing and the best he'd ever seen - I'm sure of it (tongue in cheek).
So, then came middle school where I experienced the freedom of lockers, different teachers, and breaks! As a side note to this freedom came one of my non-babysitting jobs where I was selling powdered Jello/Kool-Aid mix for $5 bucks a bag. I had a couple of regular customers, which in hindsight, seems really weird. I guess it was a rich man's version of those dipstick candy packets. Maybe their parents didn't allow sugar at home but it proved fairly lucrative for awhile until the principal found out and ended that business venture. What was up with that? Sounds like I was selling dime bags (I think that's a drug reference).
Then there were the kids who didn't want to do their own work so I'd write their papers for them. At $10 a shot I was a money making machine. I would pause here to wonder where they got the money to spend like this...I think they got paid for their grades. Would it also sadden you to know that some of those very students who paid someone else to do their work are now teachers? I made the honor roll both years of middle school despite my side ventures and what was my payoff? My dad offered to get me a Big Mac. Not a lot of incentive, especially since I had always been on the honor roll. This form of bribery was in stark contrast to what was later offered to my younger brothers. I believe they were offered $100 for every 'A' they received. Surprisingly or not, they never earned that $100, much to my dad's chagrin.
Then I came across an article telling of an experiment in paying students for their performance in school. In this article it tells of many examples and situations in which one would hypothesis that this would be a proactive way to reinforce positive behavior. In the end millions of dollars in grant money was used to prove the failure of such an approach. Time after time, in school after school, student's achievement was measured before and after. It was shown to maybe hold steady for a short while but they would then drop dramatically in performance when the monetary incentive was removed. Duh!
Amazingly, the only group to increase their comprehension and maintain those results were 2nd graders who were paid $2 for every book they read. Their standardized test scores went up and they continued to do better even after the payment for books read had stopped. This tells me two things; gains from paying kids for grades are short-term and wanting to learn is based on an intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic. When adults decide what is expected of children and what they will give them as an award based on those expectations, the adults are maintaining the control.
Kids who are allowed to be curious and active in their learning will think and behave in a way that they create meaning from their experiences and be effective at what they value. The only scary part of that for some adults and the traditional school structure mindset is that in order to do this effectively means giving up some of that control. I don't think the adults in charge are ready for that. It's too bad. And, no, we don't pay our children for good grades.