When I was in elementary school, I’d excitedly count down the days until my next report card, anxious to make sure I’d gotten an ‘A’ in each and every class. But not because I was one of those naturally straight-A kids.
I got paid.
Instead of giving me an allowance, my parents paid me for good grades: $5 for each ‘A’ and nothing for anything below that. So a report card with five ‘As’ and two ‘Bs’ gave me $25 instead of a potential $35—an outcome I worked hard to avoid.
My folks weren’t alone, it seems. An August 2012 Harris Interactive survey for the American Institute of CPAs found that 48% of parents pay their kids for good grades (though kids today get an average of $16.60 for an ‘A’). Talk about grade inflation.
Some argue a monetary incentive cheapens the act of learning. Shouldn’t children want to buckle down and study for the mere pleasure of acquiring knowledge? Or, if that sounds too idealistic (aka delusional) at least for the joy of getting the ‘A?’
Plus, some assert that paying kids just doesn’t work—that motivated students will be motivated whether they’re paid or not. (And vice versa.)
But there’s also an argument to be made that paying for good grades sets an early precedent that effort leads to reward.
Harvard economist Roland Fryer, Jr.’s extensive experiment with paying schoolchildren in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Dallas and New York doesn’t give a clear answer as to the idea’s merit. In some schools, the jump in performance was significant. In others, not so much.
The death threats he received, however, show just how touchy the subject can be.
While death threats go way too far, I understand and respect how the idea of paying kids can upset parents. For me, I loved “earning” every ‘A’ and it didn’t warp my thinking about money. I reinvested most of it anyway by using it to buy books.
LouAnn Lofton is the author of “Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl“, and a contributor to the Motley Fool.