Getting Paid for Good Grades?

I just read an interesting article by Kara Jesella in this month’s Teen Vogue about a new trend in academics – some schools are paying students for getting good grades through a new program run by the National Math and Science Initiative.

Some schools are offering $100 per passing score of AP (advanced placement) tests in subjects like calculus and chemistry. And the money can add up. According to the article, students at 31 high schools in New York City were offered up to $1,000 each for passing AP tests. (The AP program allows students to take college-level courses and earn credit or advanced standing at most of colleges and universities by taking the tests.)

When I was a student, I knew of parents who provided incentives to their children for getting good grades (a new car, more freedom, a financial bonus), but the idea of schools themselves rewarding students for academic achievement is new to me. And while I’m all for students working hard to set and reach their goals, I have to ask myself, does it come with the same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when it all boils down to being paid in cash for a job well done?

No surprise, the program has its critics. From the article:

“Samuel P. Scavella [principal of Northeast Health Science Magnet High School] says that it’s a good idea to give students incentives ‘to do things that are going to be beneficial to their life.’ Once they get used to succeeding, ‘the need for rewards fades away’ and students want to do well just for the satisfaction of doing well.

“But Robert Schaeffer, of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing disagrees. ‘It may be a good thing to see more kids taking AP courses…but the question is, what happens when they get to college and they are not paid for each grade? We need to teach kids the importance of learning in its own right…”

Increased incentives also results in many more students choosing to sign up for multiple AP tests, each at a hefty price tag of $86 dollars (although financial aid is available and some schools cover the costs). Still, some studies have shown that even though students are taking more and more tests, their pass rate is decreasing, which leads me to believe the real reason for students lining up the tests is the hope of a serious pay day.

While I am in support of the National Math and Science Initiative’s goal in trying to push students to work excel in math and science, something about this whole program doesn’t sit right with me. In the years since I’ve graduated from college and paid my dues in the work world, I’ve learned the hard way that the only true motivator – the kind that pushes you to succeed in a way that is meaningful and self-fulfilling – has to come from within. Sure, it may feel great to cash a check you earned through a test score, but if that’s a primary motivator, can you truly own the joy of the accomplishment?

What are your thoughts?

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