Incentive or Bribery?

Some parents reward their children for achieving in school with money or gifts such as toys, games, cell phones, and other desirable objects. They call the practice “positive reinforcement.” Others expect their children to achieve for the knowledge alone or for the ability to receive no more than a compliment, a pat on the back, and the satisfaction of a job well done. They consider such external incentives, “bribery.” Rewarding students to achieve certainly has its supporters and detractors, and the discussion usually brings forth heated debate. However, theory has turned to practice in dozens of school districts across the nation that are willing to pay students to achieve.
In an article in the October issue of The Kiplinger Report, Janet Bodnar states, “A plan by New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg and schools chancellor Joel Klein to pay fourth- and seventh-graders for high test scores has prompted plenty of reaction.” She cites the “slippery slope” that this practice engenders. Students can hold out for bigger and better “prizes” as they mature. And once the students reach high school and can hold part-time jobs, their parents’ leverage may evaporate. She also quotes school psychologist Sylvia Rimm, who points out that “for high-achieving students, money doesn’t matter. And, Rimm says, kids who are underachievers fail because they’re inconsistent.” Research has shown that once the incentives disappear, so does the motivation.
On the other hand, some school districts are desperate enough to attempt any measure to keep their students enrolled. The Spark Program is currently in practice in some New York City Schools. Developed by a Harvard economist, this program strives to target at-risk students from lower income families. A report on ABC news maintains that the developer of the program, Dr. Fryer, “Is trying to figure out a way to make school tangible for kids, to come up with short-term rewards that will be in their long-term best interest.” Santa Ana, California, and Baltimore, Maryland also provide cash rewards for students who perform well. The goal is to keep students engaged enough to stay enrolled.
If students are actually rewarded for high achievement, perhaps the practice will spread to teachers as well.

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