Learn and Earn: Paying for Grades Sets Bad Precedence

learn and earnI caught a segment on the CBS nightly news the other day that told of a growing trend across the country whereby kids, and their parents, are being paid for meeting educational milestones. So called “Learn and Earn” programs now exist in eleven states and are currently funded with a combination of public and private funds.

In New York, Mayor Bloomberg even pitched in his own money to fund Opportunity NYC, New York’s version of the “Learn and Earn” program which compensates the cities “poorest kids” for passing required regents exams. They also pay parents $25 for attending parent-teacher conferences, and $200 for taking kids to annual physicals. Two Georgia school systems have also recently gotten in on the pay for participation trend, offering to pay kids $8 an hour to attend after-school tutoring.

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I believe kids ought to have some innate desire to want to learn, and should not have to motivated by the promise of cash. Parents should foster this desire by encouraging lifelong learning, both inside and outside a traditional classroom setting. When did it become the responsibility of taxpayers and private donors to motivate students and their parents to educate themselves? What this really sounds like is a complex welfare system which operates under the guise of an educational reward program.

If you really want to pay low-income students and their families, why not create incentives around good, old-fashioned work, and leave educational goals out of it. By converting current volunteer activities to paid, part time work, parents could be compensated for time spent improving school grounds, working at after-school activities, or assisting teachers with much-needed oversight during the administration of standardized tests, etc. Students could be paid for tutoring younger children (but not for receiving tutoring), assisting with sports programs (team managers), and performing after-school jobs such as painting, grass cutting, etc. Perhaps then kids would take more pride in their schools and parents would be more visible on school grounds, leading to less disciplinary issues.

When I was in school the only motivation we needed to be successful was the threat of failure, summer school or after-school detention. Today’s kids aren’t as concerned with punitive threats, but teaching them to expect cash rewards for doing minimal work will create an entitlement mindset that will stay with them their entire lives. This mindset will lead to a generation of underachievers, content with doing just enough to get by and receive their government rewards. That’s not what American capitalism was built on. Kids should be encouraged to learn, to excel, and to develop and chase their own dreams.


  1. Actually, I think the idea is that the poorest parents couldn’t afford to take time off work to go to conference or to take the kid to the doctor at all.

    I think it’s not a bad idea for the lowest income parents to give them money to actually see a doctor or talk to teachers. Then again, I hate taxes.

  2. Dogatemyfinances: I also like the idea of companies offering “education” time for this purpose, but I don’t think it is something that should be mandated, or subsidized, by the government.

  3. BING-GO!

    I have never advocated getting paid for grades even when I was the one earning the grades! That’s like paying your kids to take a bath, or brush their teeth, or clean their rooms.

    We should strive for excellence in all areas of life. Paying for good grades just cheapens it.

  4. Unfortunately, most of the children that I’ve taught do not have an innate desire to learn. I’ve taught in 3 different cities in the metro Detroit area and I rarely see children that are motivated internally to learn. Something that we all need to think about is that the failures of the few can affect the fortunes of the many.

  5. I think people are desperate to keep children in school and focused on learning, it is also very hard for families to take time off for conferences and other school activities and to handle the amounts of homework handed out daily. I am really not sure what the solution is, but interesting topic.

  6. I think it is important for people to learn for the sake of learning, but that is innate and most people will never learn because they want to learn. I think this is a good idea because in the real world people who perform better get paid more. Kids should be provided with incentives to perform to their complete abilities.

  7. When I was a kid my mom paid me for my grades. It worked really well for us. The way she explained it was that it was my “job” to go to school and earn good grades. If I did that, then I would be rewarded. If I didn’t, then I’d be punished.

    For every “A” I’d earn $5
    For every “B” I’d earn $3
    For every “C” I’d earn nothing, but I’d pay nothing too
    For every “D” I’d pay her $3
    For every “F” I’d pay her $5

    That being said… I don’t agree with the government doing something similar. If parents aren’t working jobs that provide time off to take care of their children and their educational needs, then it is a problem that needs to be looked at. If parents aren’t working jobs that pay high enough wages so that they can ensure their child is living in a safe, healthy environment and eating appropriate food, then that is a problem that needs to be looked at. It is up to the government to make sure that minimum wage is a livable wage so that parents can be the rock that their children need. OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now…