U.S. News and World Report ran a story a few days ago about how schools are doling out prizes to reward students for good behavior and academic achievement. Incentives such as Happy Meal coupons, iPods, cash and even cars are being handed out to students in hopes that it will motivate them to do better in school.
A particular New York City public school is spending upwards of $170,000 to reward students for taking mandatory standardized tests.
The article quotes Roland Fryer, the head of the project:
“Roland Fryer, a Harvard professor of economics, says it’s “absurd” to expect children who grew up in poverty, with parents who, for example, dropped out of school, to appreciate the value of education without giving them immediate rewards for taking school seriously. As the chief equality officer for New York City public schools, Fryer oversees a pilot program that pays students from low-performing schools $25 and $50 for doing well on standardized tests. “We’re not undermining this idea of learning for the love of learning,” Fryer says. “We’re trying to cultivate it by making education tangible for these kids.”
What’s scary about this is that it plays into the “instant-gratification” culture our country seems to be developing. Children are no longer being taught the satisfaction of hard work and a job well done. They are being taught that money is the only reason to do anything. Is it no wonder then that the younger generation of workers now entering the workforce expect to be paid six-figure salaries and work on their laptop at the beach after only 6-months employment? Is that not the reward they’ve come to expect from a lifetime of trading performance for money?
As for the aforementioned children who grow up in poverty with parents who dropped out of school, their motivation to learn and get ahead is right in front of them. If anything, these are the children who should understand the “value” of education the most since they see, firsthand, the real-life struggles that come from not earning a high school diploma.
I don’t agree that we must make education “tangible” for the same reasons I don’t believe bonuses and pay raises motivate people to do quality work. Once the expectation has been set, be it in school or later on in the workplace, that the only reason to do a good job is for a tangible, monetary reward, you have essentially robbed people of the desire to excel to a level past the minimum. Why strive for an A when I get $25 a C+? Why strive to retain customers if I only get paid for bringing them in?
The Chief Happiness Officer, Alexander Kjerulf, has an excellent post that touches on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation and Why “Motivation by Pizza” (or Happy Meal Coupons) Doesn’t Work.
Looks like the New York public school system is at it again! Except this time, instead of ipods, cash or cars, they’re handing out cell phones to Brooklyn’s top students.
“Education officials began doling out cellphones to 2,500 students on Wednesday as part of a closely watched experiment to try to change the way teenagers think about doing well in school. The pilot program, at three Brooklyn middle schools and four charter schools, is part of an effort by Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein to motivate students to perform better academically — and reward them when they do.”
You can read the full article in the New York Times here.