Cash for Grades

May 1st, 2008 by Kathy McManus

Should students be paid for going to class or doing well on a test?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Education opens many doors.

 But should the main one be at the bank? 

School districts throughout the country are increasingly paying students for coming to class, taking tests, and improving their scores as part of controversial incentive programs known as "cash for grades." 

In Baltimore, high school students who make the grade can make some money--up to $110 for raising their scores on state assessment tests.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, passing students can turn a school day into pay day, earning $300 if they attend 90% of their classes for the year. 

And near Atlanta, eighth and eleventh graders who take part in a special after-school study program are paid $8 an hour--more than the minimum wage in most states.

Supporters of earning while learning point to increased attendance and higher test scores at underperforming schools where no other form of educational motivation has worked. "We’re in competition with the streets," said one Bronx junior high school principal of her students. “They can go out there and make $50 illegally any day of the week. We have to do something to compete with that.” 

 But critics of the programs—many of which are privately funded--say the payments are simply bribes, and that using money as a motivator sends the wrong message to kids about their responsibility to learn. 

Would George Washington Carver have come up with his inventions in horticulture if someone had “bribed him?” asked one critic. Would Marie Curie have been inspired to spend long hours in the lab? “What kind of message do we give unmotivated kids,” he wondered, “when we give them something they never earned?” 

Tell us what you think: Should schools pay students to learn? Is learning all the way to the bank responsible?