Cash for good grades?

The other week, we discussed the pros and cons of performance pay for teachers. But what about paying students for being good?

Thousands of Washington, D.C. middle-schoolers had their first payday last week. In exchange for good behavior, attendance and grades, they received checks for $20-$50 as part of a yearlong, $2.7 million pilot program called “Capital Gains.”

The kids’ reactions were mixed, according to a Washington Post story. One boy told a reporter that he felt insulted by the idea that he’d need to be paid to do the work. Others said the prospect of a paycheck made them work harder.

The Capital Gains plan is a joint venture between the school district and Harvard University. Roland Fryer Jr., a Harvard economist at the university’s American Inequality Lab, will study whether such rewards motivate underprivileged middle school kids to do better, and whether they could be a way to narrow the achievement gap.

The Broad Foundation, which has been a major player in Oakland’s reform efforts, footed half the $2.7 million through a grant to Harvard.

What do you think about this concept of rewarding kids for what they’re supposed to do anyway? If Fryer’s research shows that it does make a difference, would that change your mind?

photo courtesy of the District of Columbia Mayor’s Office

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    I’ll be very surprised if it has much effect. At the same age, I was identified as an “under-achiever”, “not working up to potential”, etc. My parents tried offering me money for A’s, and I brought them A’s for a while, but then got bored with it.

    Of course when I got the cash, my younger siblings felt they were also entitled to get paid for their grades, and my parents ended up dropping the whole idea – it cost too much to pay all four kids, and the motivation was too short-term.

    If this experiment *does* work, I’ll have to eat my words, but I’m not too worried – and a little catsup will help with the taste. :)

  • Catherine

    We can all say there should be learning for learning’s sake, and I believe in that theory.

    However, if you have the lure of proverty and “quick money,” you need to jump start the learning process. One of the benefits of a good education is the earning potential is increased. When enrolling children in this process of money for grades, there should be an understanding that this is the beginning of an increased earning potential.

  • John

    The “American Equity Lab.” I’m gonna make me one of those for Halloween! Gettin me a giant petri dish, a sprinklin of white, black, & brown kids and drop em inside and see what happens through my macroscope. No one be admitted to the lab without a white coat and tie. Gotta keep it clean and scientific and all!

    There be kids instead of mice and rabbits in da lab so I be usin green backs instead of green lettuce. Coins be a choking hazard for kids 3 years and under. So is hard candy, so the younger subjects gotta be kept in the lab on Halloween and eat soft fruit.

    I be thinkin of the job the state administrators did for Oakland education when they be gettin lots of bucks, so it probably be good for kids to be gettin green backs for tryin too – even if they not be successful like adults who be gettin lots of money when they ain’t successful.

    Gotta go again.

  • spedteacher


    I believe that John as repeatedly crossed over the line of what is acceptable communication with the syntax he uses. It is now outright racist and offensive. I would like to see this board kept to respectful comments.

  • Offended

    I agree with Spedteacher. John is mocking students and their culture … and stereotyping city kids in the meantime.

    Please start removing offensive posts. Maybe instigate a way for readers to report abuse like SFGate does. It would also be nice to see a limit on number of posts from oneperson in one week … Brave New World! ( Your hard copy paper wouldn’t take multiple letters to the editor in one week, I am sure. )

  • John

    I’ve heard of thought and speech police, but have never contemplated a syntax cop!? A lot of folks are going to be wearing handcuffs and mouthcupps if that one ever gets legislated.

    Maybe someone needs to establish an American English Syntax Equity Lab next to the American Equity Lab? I was never opposed to English being the official National Language of the United States, I’d never contemplated that a national language complemented with a national syntax!? It might meet some strong resistance from those sympathetic to OUSD’s failed (rescinded) Ebonics Resolution.

    So Spedteacher, if you believe that I’ve repeatedly “crossed the line” and am an “outright racist and offensive” why have you held back until now? Why don’t you address your comments directly to me instead of tattling your concerns to Katy? It’s been my experience that when Katy strongly objects to something from me or someone else she dumps it. That’s HER prerogative. Tell me (alias) Spedteacher, does having direct communicating with someone you don’t like or disagree with intimidate you?

    There are certainly things that offend me and I address them one way or another. It’s great you’ve come out of your closet, in your own special way. Wanna chat? I mean, ‘Would you like to have a conversation?’ I’d love to have a frank discussion with you on the subject of racism, if you be ready for it? Oops!

  • Nextset

    John has a point and as usual the liberals first resort is suppression of political speech. By the way – this is a taste of what to expect when Obama wins – prosecution of political dissent.

    And the first thing the leftist whiners will trot out is the racism card. As if we care.

    The urban schools such as OUSD promote ebonics – if that’s what we are going to call it – as a race and class delineator which keeps the speakers in there place thoughout their lives. While it really does help in quickly identifying who not to allow on your premises the whole reason for having the schools is to educate the students to the point where they are able to feeely move around in society and the economy.

    As far as Cash for Grades, which is the topic of this thread – it obscures the real need for the schools which is “perform or get removed from the campus”. We don’t allow (I hope) teachers to turn up drunk, passing out, and unable to function as teachers. Yet we allow students to remain in their seats surly, unresponsive and unable to perform anywhere near grade level. That is wrong. The teachers and the other students should not have to suffer the presence of students on their campus who cannot read and write english at grade level or otherwise function as required to carry there own weight as a member of the class.

    Having said that I do believe the school should have a system of status and rewards for every student who is on track to graduate with above average to superb scores. It can be adjustments to their uniforms or some other rank ribbon, or even status such as ability to go off campus for lunch or such. Yes, there should be visible status for the high achievers besides being allowed on the most desirable campus. Cash? Maybe as part of a set of better treatments.

  • Nextset

    Oh, and “Offended” – I’m glad you are offended. In political speech that is the currency we use. Deal with it.

  • Turner

    Syntax cop?!!!! That’s hilarious. What’s so offensive about John’s post?

  • Sue

    The insulting and mocking tone, I think. Phrases like:

    “a sprinklin of white, black, & brown kids and drop em inside”

    “There be kids instead of mice and rabbits in da lab”

    “I be thinkin ”

    We all know that John is better-educated than the above quotes – we’ve all seen him write better posts. And he’s certainly hasn’t been shy about his background, reportedly a former special education teacher in OUSD.

    Does that clear it up for you, Turner?

  • spedteacher

    Thank you Sue for clarifying exactly what was offensive. I actually do not believe that John is a former Special Education teacher because we are inclusive rather than hateful.

    John – You challenged me to address you directly. “Your comments are racist and demeaning.. This posting was about rewarding students for performance. It was not particular to any group or geographic. You turn every posting into being about race and how bad Oakland schools are. You mention my using an alias, yet you do not identify yourself in any meaningful way. John could be an alias as well; it certainly does not identify you personally. Perhaps it is time to share your full name since you have a problem with otherwise.”

  • Nextset

    So are we angry with John because someone believes he betrayed his obligations as a Special Ed teacher?

    OK I do think John can get over the top. But that’s his way. I stand by my earlier comment that political speech – that’s speech about policy – is entitled to be “offensive”. If you can’t track someone’s point you just tune them out. And I like following John’s lines… when I can!

    You see here on the blog we can be candid with each other in a way that we wouldn’t “in person”. I wouldn’t talk with you perhaps in person because I’m not going to engage you – you aren’t in my world and I wouldn’t bother.

    here it’s all about the policy and what needs to happen in Education. We are free with our thought process. Very free in fact. And sometimes that can seem crude to another – because it’s not so censored.

    Believe me, my thoughts on OUSD coddling ebonics are barely printable. What John wrote is nothing. But then I think he’s white. I’m black.

    Night all…

  • Lisa

    I have never heard a colleague or a superior “promote” ebonics — I have heard them understand it and use it to help students contrast those linguistics with Academic English, yes. I work at a school where we have an Academic English campaign. Do we stop every kid who uses non-Academic English in the halls or in talking to each other to express themselves … no, especially as that type of communication is more effective at times. Yes, we do talk different versions of English being situationally appropriate or not. We do work with students to appraise their situation and try to use the most appropriate version of English for that situation.

    Come on, Nextset and SpecEdTeah, certainly you don’t use the exact same English with every group you are with in every situation you are in. Come on, Nextset and SpecEdTeach, you certainly recognize that we have ALL adapted English from the way it was first spoken to make it work for us.

    Again, we do not PROMOTE ebonics.

    But we treat our students with respect and do not make fun of them either.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if people who post here could avoid mocking others? Some of you sound like you have ALL the answers to education problems. Why don’t you get involved beyond just complaining? I don’t understand.

  • aly

    i teach high school in an alternative ed setting in oakland, and i know that money for grades would be hugely successful at our school. my students often blow off school because they need money NOW, and the idea that school is their job doesn’t go over with them because they don’t get paid. they don’t believe they have a future, so the concept of school paying off later in life is also lost on them for the most part.

    it is easy for people to criticize or insult our students as john did with his mockery of their language, but the issue at the end of the day is are we doing what helps them the most? if we gave a financial incentive for grades, i believe that kids who are borderline (an enormous population in oakland) would be swayed back to success by the money and stay for the feeling of accomplishment.

  • Nextset

    Lisa: I feel your post makes the point that the teachers and schools I complain about are so into being comfortable they cannot see the speech issue the way I do. It’s much more fun to be a friend to the kids and keep them happy. Working on the language – confronting the students every time they drop into slang and dialect – humiliating them, mocking them whatever it takes to get their attention and train them to use standard english – IS confrontational.

    The black students of OUSD need to be fluent in standard english to move freely within US society. They need it to find and keep work that will support a family. They need it to be accepted where it counts. They also need it to pass testing and screening for military, industry and higher education.

    Your putting a premium on being nice to the chillun’ is the pat on the back that holds them back. And it’s something I never saw in the old school black educators – and my family has 4 generations of them – whose products are the black professionals all over the country. Not for a minute did they fail to get our attention. And they weren’t in the business to be loved.

  • John

    [Oops! Put this in the wrong (topic Your bond money at work…)slot (haste makes mistakes – Katy please erase). But then, as some (especially) here can attest – this isn’t my first mistake. Although, it’s likely to be one of my many last mistakes. Besides, reading repetition can be good, especially for SOME.]

    Spedteacher, it was nice hearing your belated bleats coming from beneath Sue’s pleats. I wasn’t aware that communicating in (broken) Ebonics was “outright racist” and (even worse) “offensive” and “mocking students and their culture,” as observed by you and your torch and rake toting supporters.

    Sue is correct in her observation that I am “better-educated than” the Ebonics usage comments reflected in my commentary.

    Tell you what, I’ll stop using this “uneducated” form of English and you’ll help and tell Oakland Students to do likewise. Although it could make you and yours quite unpopular, tellin the chillun to get educated and stop using this uneducated form of English. But then you’ve already proven yourselves as valiant crusaders, haven’t you? Just keep in mind that some members of the school board won’t like you either, given their once upon a time (nationally humiliating) effort to promote (legislate) Ebonics in the Oakland Schools.

    OUSD Board Ebonics Resolution: http://www.jaedworks.com/shoebox/oakland-ebonics.html

    I suppose telling an educated person to stop acting uneducated is a lot easier than telling uneducated people to get educated, especially when being uneducated is considered by so terribly terrible many to be a holy component of Oakland urban culture. But then, as Nextset observes, “…putting a premium on being nice to the chillun’ is the pat on the back that holds them back,” and you wouldn’t want to do that, or would you?

  • Sue

    Consistently being mean has a tendency to drive people (children) away. I see the teachers trying to keep kids from dropping out of school by trying to build some sort of connection and raport.

    I see you trying to drive everyone who doesn’t agree with you off this blog with continuous streams of insults and sarcasm. When the only people left here are the ones who all agree with each other, it’ll be a nice echo chamber for you. And since you abandoned OUSD a while back, I’m sure it won’t bother you that the echo chamber won’t be an effective means of communicating about problems or finding possible solutions.

  • Carrie

    It seems as if this blog is providing an outlet for a lot of anger, some of which may belong elsewhere, but maybe that’s the nature of the blogosphere these days…
    I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading others’ comments on the OUSD, as a veteran teacher in the district myself. I have read expressions of many of the same frustrations and questions which I have had over the years. I don’t think the ranting, sarcastic tone of some of the entries is very helpful, or productive, but maybe it helps the writers to express them here?
    As to the idea of pay for grades, I find it deeply offensive. In many other countries, I have heard repeatedly from friends who are immigrants as well as from the immigrant parents of some of my students, teachers are respected! Can you imagine? People consider it a privilege to get a free education (one Mexican mother, who had not gone beyond second grade because she’d had to help her family, and the school was charging for things our kids take for granted like notebooks and pencils, sighed, “Los ninos aqui estan en la gloria”–Kids here have it made), and they appreciate the institution from which they are getting it. I understand that there are many reasons why students in the US might not feel that way, and many ways in which schools have alienated their constituents, accidentally or on purpose, over the years. But the idea that we might PAY kids to show up is appalling to me. I’m sure many of you are familiar with Alfie Kohn’s idea of punishing with rewards. If the kids who are happy to earn good grades/behave/show up just because it’s the right thing to do start getting paid to do so, their intrinsic motivation to do the right thing will be eroded. Are they going to expect to be paid just for showing up for the rest of their lives? People talk about the racism of low expectations. I was never paid to achieve in school, and I do not intend to bribe my children to do their best. As a teacher, I want to encourage my students to do well, to be curious and thoughtful, determined and hardworking, because those are qualities which will stand them in good stead throughout life. That is challenging and I often feel as if I’m not getting through. But I will not be part of a program which says to kids that school itself isn’t worth the effort-only the cash is.
    Our country has much of which to be ashamed, and there have been many failures in our history as we have struggled to become a truly just and equal society. But we should be proud of offering a free and open education to every child, and we should not have to pay those children to take part in it.

  • Nextset

    Sue: John is not driving anybody away with insults and mocking. What he is doing is bringing to the surface personalities who can’t handle being disagreed with. And I for one have not found that being “mean” drives children away. I can engage students – and infuriate them too – and keep them coming back for more. Education is not a mother bird feeding chicks. Education includes helping the student fall flat on his/her face (or rear) and making them get right back on the horse and try it again.

    So I disagree with what I think is your point that we have to be nice to the chillin’ and be their friend and keep them happy in class – if that is what you are arguing. I argue that the better teachers constantly challenge their students to perform better than the student planned to. And that does mean critism, some nagging, and judicious use of approval and dissaproval. And sometimes just scaring them, also. This is especially true when your students are lower class – or are heading into dangerous times when they leave your training. Those kids need to be stressed if they are to make it in this Brave New World.

    Anybody here ever read “Rite of Passage” by Alexi Panshin or “Tunnel in the Sky” by Robert Heinlien? That’s the kind of teaching we need in our urban schools.

    Handing out Cash at school is good training for welfare mothers to be – to be welfare mothers. I am not a fan of this.

    Carrie: It’s difficult to follow your posts when you write in a continuous block. Try paragraph breaks. I don’t remember seeing your posts often – I’d love to hear your take on all this. However – stating that you find something offensive, deeply or otherwise, doesn’t get very far in my opinion. If something is unwise please tell us how it is unwise. We need all the input from working teachers to keep our dialog balanced.

    I do think your comment about “just and equal society” is hogwash. You can tell the chillin’ that’s never going to happen and they’d better learn how to take care of Number 1 and their family and friends.

  • Lisa

    Since when did respecting a child and refraining from mocking them mean that a teacher is just trying to be friends with a student?

    I am perplexed by the way some people jump to conclusions that respecting a person means you don’t have high standards for them. As I’ve said many, many times to one particular critic, come to my classroom and then judge me and my students.

  • Cranky Teacher

    I’ve had a lot of students tell me they are getting paid to do things: get grades, attend summer programs. For the driven ones, it gets them going a bit, but when the kid already is unable to go to class, etc., it usually only seems to work as a motivator for a few days.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Lisa, they don’t want to have a real conversation.

  • Jon Simon


    You’re getting pedagogical ideas from Heinlein? You’ve literally got me laughing out loud. Selfish, bullying, inhumane, spoiled, harmful, misguided… Sigh.

    Giving money to kids for grades works for some kids, but for most it’s a novelty that wears off. It also causes harm in the long term as the intrinsic rewards of learning are cheapened.

    A much better idea is giving money to parents for their child’s attendance, homework completion, and grades. A dollar a day for attendance, two more a day for homework completion by the child (not an older sibling), and bonuses for As and Bs. Make it only open to those who have a kid on free or reduced price lunches. Perhaps the dollar amount will need to be larger, but once parents are motivated, the kids will improve dramatically.

    It also makes financial sense. One year of prison for one inmate costs way more than thirteen years of payments to a parent.

  • Nextset

    Jon Simon: I think that the districts should be free to try something new. It’s their budget. And as far as Heinlein goes, maybe he got his ideas from the US Service Academies.

    Anyway, the proof is in the pudding as they say. All we have to do is see whose products do better in the marketplace – those raised in the urban school liberal fashion and those who were not.