Getting Cash and Credit for Passing Grades

August 08, 2009 08:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
New educational programs are offering cash rewards for good grades. Critics call the programs bribery; supporters say such incentives encourage students to strive for goals they wouldn’t have realized were possible.

One Thousand Reasons to Study

“Gregg Flecha earned pretty good money last year, for a 9-year-old,” writes Zach Patton of Governing, a Washington-based policy site. Flecha, who goes to school in the East Village, was rewarded with $200 as part of New York’s, cash-for-grades pilot experiment, begun in 2007.

Laverne Nimmons, principal at P.S. 335 in Brooklyn, explains that in more affluent communities, parents are the ones rewarding children. “With this program, we’re just trying to create a level playing field,” says Nimmons.

Another incentive program, Reach—the Rewarding Achievement program—also started two years ago and has been implemented in 31 New York City high schools, many with large minority populations. The program founder, Whitney Tilson, said his mission was to “democratize Advanced Placement,” according to The New York Times. AP courses are college-level classes that can earn high school students college credit. 

For the last two years, in addition to credit, participants in the Reach program that passed the exams were rewarded with money. To bolster pass rates, which disappointed in 2008, Edward Rodriguez, the executive director of Reach, also rewarded participation in a weekend preparatory program. 

For example, students who received a 5, the highest score on the exam, were awarded $500; those who came to the weekend sessions and scored a 5 were given $1,000.

Analysis of the enhanced program showed modest improvement, with about 79 more students receiving passing scores than the year prior. In addition, The Times reported that students took 800 more AP exams than in 2008, with an increase of 302 passing marks; many students took more than one exam.

Similar projects, both public and private, have been employed in at least 11 other states, USA Today reported. In Arkansas, Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington, an Exxon Mobile program rewards students with $100 for every AP exam they pass

Gregg Fleisher of the National Math and Science Initiative, who manages the seven-state program, told USA Today the programs have encouraged students to take more challenging courses. “This teaches them that if they work at something very hard and have a lot of support, they can do something they didn’t think they could do.”

Opinion & Analysis: Should we pay students to make good grades?

In 2008, findingDulcinea reported on the analysis of several incentive programs by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). The center found that when programs were “strongly supported by school personnel, their effectiveness increases student academic gains by 5 percentile points.”

The concept has its critics, however. Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a watchdog group, told USA Today, “Bribing kids for higher test scores … is similar to giving them steroids. Short-term performance might improve but the long-term effects can be very damaging.”

On, a Web site focused on education reform, one blogger who is unenthusiastic about the concept of paying students suggests a compromise: “How about we put this ‘allowance’ into some kind of fund towards higher education, instead of having a classroom full of 4th graders with nicer cell phones than their teacher.”

But it appears that many students have been responsible with their reward money. “I don’t really want to buy video games,” Flecha said, according to Governing. “When I grow up, I want that money to be there for college.” Flecha’s program and others like it help students open savings accounts and learn money saving lessons in class, Governing reported.

Still, some argue the idea is unethical and perhaps even debilitating. Jon Gallo, author of “The Financially Intelligent Parent: 8 Steps To Raising Successful, Generous, Responsible Children,” told MSN that some psychologists feel replacing “an internal sense of satisfaction” with cash could prevent a child from developing a work ethic.

Psychologist Gary Buffone, the author of “Choking on the Silver Spoon: Keeping Your Kids Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise in a Land of Plenty,” paid his daughters for their grades. “Money can be a good motivator, not unlike the real world, which explains why most people show up for work,” Buffone told MSN.

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