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Cash for Grades

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Wednesday, September 5th, 2007 Robert Seith | CWK Producer

“If you tell someone, ‘We’re going to give you a reward,’ it’s very exciting. Kids do great with what we call behavior modification. If you do something, you get rewarded for it.”

– Paula Bryman, LCSW

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This fall, the city of New York is experimenting with a plan that would reward parents, in cash, for getting involved in their children’s education.  They are also considering a plan to pay children who get good grades.  Some experts say this controversial approach has it limits.

Does a cash reward for good grades work?  Some kids think so.

“I would actually try to study harder just for the money,” says Arketa, 16.

“I actually think that would be better than punishing us for bad grades because that doesn’t really motivate us,” says Cody, 17.

Proponents say the idea behind receiving money for good grades is well-founded.

“If you tell someone, ‘We’re going to give you a reward,’ it’s very exciting.  Kids do great with what we call behavior modification.  If you do something, you get rewarded for it,” says Paula Bryman, LCSW.

However, say experts say that kind of behavior modification has its limits.
“I think as a short-term, it probably works but not over the long haul,” says Sherry Blake, Ph.D., psychologist.

Blake says that over time, a child will not maintain the amount of effort it takes to get good grades if all they’re doing it for is a little cash at the end.  To create good students long-term, she says a child has to internalize the value of learning.

“The joy of understanding something new, the joy of achieving a goal we want that to come from within if we’re only using external measures,” says Blake.

“If it is money or something elaborate, then a child doesn’t learn the joy of learning,” Blake continues. “What the child learns is the message that is sent: ‘if I do this then I get this.’”

Many students will say that good grades mean you’ve done well and that’s the real reward.

“You don’t need to get money.  You don’t need to get privileges.  You just need to pass your classes.  You need to go to school, and you need to get your education yourself.  You don’t need any help.  I think you can do it on your own,” says Ashleigh, 17.

What We Need To Know

  • Responsibility and initiative are learned through a gradual process of guidance and reward. (American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP)
  • Honest praise from parents can be the most effective way of motivating your child and supporting his/her success. (AAP)
  • An allowance motivates children to assume responsibilities around the home. These tasks should contribute to the family’s (and not just the child’s) well being. Children do need to learn to care for themselves (clean up their room, put away toys) but they also need to contribute to the family.  (AAP)
  • Make sure your child clearly understands the purpose of an allowance. If you use it as a reward or payment for chores, then the rules should be clear about what your youngster needs to do to earn that money, and you need to abide by the agreement that you make. (AAP)
  • Spell out the amount, purpose and expectations for the allowance in advance, and monitor the spending to teach important decision-making lessons. (AAP)


  • American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

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