Rewards Greater Than Money

Pay kids for grades? A teacher makes the case that rewards of trust, responsibility and opportunity are more productive -- and realistic.

My columns on paying for grades (see Pay Kids for Good Grades? Bad Idea and Readers Defend Paying for Grades (opens in new tab)) continue to generate lively, often heated, responses. A reader named Norm puts it bluntly: "Pay kids for good grades? Are you kidding? No way! Let's pay them for chores around the house and let them learn the satisfaction of responsibility, which many kids today don't even know the definition of."

Reader Joanne Friedman has spent most of her adult life as a teacher in a public high school, working with students at all ability levels. Based on her experience, Friedman writes, "I can state unequivocally that paying for grades is counterproductive." Her thoughtful letter continues: "Eventually kids enter the real world, where only some work is rewarded with cash, and they seem shocked to discover that not everything they do is worthy of pay. In many cases, confusion, anger and depression follow. Those students never learned the concept of responsibility to the community as a whole, to their families, or to themselves.

"To boot, there eventually comes a point where the child isn't quite able to meet the standards set for payment, and either forces the parents into renegotiating or simply gives up and fails.

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"I've even seen students who received pay (in cash or desired items) from their teachers for good classroom performance. Imagine their shock when they arrived in my classroom and no pay for appropriate work was forthcoming!

"The chaos created by this paradigm shift, which forced them to see that minimum requirements must be met with or without pay or failure would result, cost some of them entire semesters while they sorted out their place in the universe.

"I believe in positive reinforcement, but it needs to be appropriate to the behavior. Students who maintain good grades earn the trust of their family, which results in permission to do other things they like to do. They earn a diploma and access to additional educational opportunities, which, in the long run, may result in higher pay.

"Students who are not working up to their ability level simply don't have the time, the credentials or the trust required to be permitted to do those other things. Not punishment, just logical consequences -- something our society has lost sight of over the past two generations."

Thanks to Friedman and to everyone who has joined this debate. Your opinions have been both pro and con, but they have all expressed some common themes: a belief in the value of education, a desire to communicate that value to kids in the most effective way possible and a wish to teach young people personal responsibility. In those goals, good luck to us all, whatever our tactics.

Janet Bodnar
Editor-at-Large, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. While editor, Bodnar was honored by Folio as one of its Top Women in Media. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.