Symposium 2012: Should schools incentivize students for good test scores?

Michigan: For the most part I don’t think that schools care. High schools only want to move students along and college is only a business. Our corporations and anyone looking to hire someone should offer the incentives. Higher pay for higher GPA. Maybe students would work harder is they knew that a 4.0 would get them $80,000 per year while a 3.0 is only worth $50,000.
Sydney: If the incentive is non–monetary such as a trophy or certificate then this is a good idea. However, if financial gain is the motivating factor behind better student effort in tests then we are headed down a very slippery slope. Where would you start? Is $10 an appropriate reward for a student who gets an A? What happens when the students start to think that $10 isn’t motivation enough and $20 or more seems more reasonable to them? There are also students who may be motivated more by the idea of receiving vouchers to fast food stores. This would be a tacit message that eating junk food is okay. Schools should never be in a position where they are giving students such bad messages. Motivation to perform better in tests can never be sustained (no matter how high the reward) if that motivation does not come from within the individual student.

Teachers and parents need to instill the message that good test results will provide long-term benefits such as college entry and later on a good job with all the positive outcomes it brings. There needs to be a focus on training teachers who can motivate students by setting an example and who can effectively communicate the need to do well at school. These teachers need to be able to connect with their students and inspire them to aim high.

Cartwright: Financial incentives are a horrible idea. I’ve long supported schools being run by the military. That’s not to say they are military schools, but they should be run by the military. What’s that going to accomplish? Discipline. And there’s a pretty powerful incentive to do well in school. If you do well, you don’t have anything to worry about. If you don’t do well because you’re lazy, the military has a solution for you. No more of this passing kids just because you don’t feel you can hold them back. If you don’t pass because you’re lazy, you’re going to have a little boot camp over the summer courtesy of the military. Thus, there’s a consequence to being lazy and shiftless.

Now I know that some of you are going to immediately have the reaction that some kids aren’t learning because of the teachers in the schools. That may be the case some of the time, and when it is, we need to make sure that teachers aren’t failing students. Listen, there are a lot of good teachers out there, but education is a two way street. And anyone that wants to learn and has the will to learn can learn and can be taught. Sadly, when a kid is failing it’s immediately the teacher’s fault. Maybe that teacher isn’t connecting with the student. Maybe another teacher in the school can connect better. We need to have better assessments of the scholastic aptitude of students and get them in the classes that best suit them.

Success and the satisfaction that comes from a job well done should be incentive enough to do well in school. And I’ll even go out on a limb and say maybe an occasional pizza party or ice cream party for students with good grades. But I believe that rather than just rewarding or incentivizing students we need to have consequences and punishment for laziness and dereliction.

RMC3: I certainly don’t think we need to give kids financial incentives, but I don’t see anything wrong with giving them incentives for good grades. When I was in school, the teachers gave us incentives. Maybe it was a free homework pass if you got an A on all the tests in the grading period, or maybe you got to exempt the last test of the grading period if you had all A’s up to that point. It really gave you some incentive to do well. Or maybe if you had an A in the class you didn’t have to take the final cumulative exam. I don’t know about anyone else, but that was a pretty good incentive for me. There are little incentives like that that don’t involve monetary rewards but give kids some reward for studying, working hard, and going well on tests.

Maybe that doesn’t mean much to kids in today’s society. Maybe they’re too materialistic or self centered to appreciate that, but I don’t know. I think there’s a pretty big problem in the education system in that there are no consequences if you don’t do well in school. I remember being in fifth grade with a kid who was sixteen years old. He was driving himself to school in the fifth grade. He kept failing and they kept holding him back, but God bless him he didn’t give up, he kept trying until he finally got through the fifth grade. But now I don’t think teachers can fail kids and hold them back. Not only does everyone have to be a winner, but kids can’t be held back lest it compromise the school’s federal funding. Pretty sad, isn’t it? We’re rewarding failure and teaching kids it’s ok to be marginal. You don’t have to excel to get through. Maybe you can just coast by, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a free ride at college to play sports. Is this really helping today’s kids?

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