Blogs About Reading

Sound It Out

Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Another disincentive: money for nothing

July 3, 2007

Yesterday's New York Times included an opinion piece by Barry Schwartz titledMoney For Nothingabout a pilot program in New York City schools that offers cash rewards to students based on attendance records and test performance.

According to Schwartz, "diligent, high-achieving seventh graders will be able to earn up to $500 in a year." The program is funded through private donations, and on NPR yesterday Schwartz said he believed the incentive program will be offered to fourth and seventh grade students.

Schwartz believes the plan to be based on two assumptions: first, people respond to incentives and second, the more motives the better. "Give people two reasons to do something, the thinking goes, and they will be more likely to do it, and they'll do it better, than if they have only one."

Schwartz argues against applying these assumptions to school settings. Lots of research suggests that applying incentives to situations where the rewards are typically intrinsic (like learning a new and exciting skill or discovering a new author) actually detracts from the intrinsic reward and lessens the behavior for the future. Sort of like what I heard in my kitchen last week.

The risk for NYC schools (and others considering similar programs) is this: Students who get paid to go to school and take tests will be even less interested in the work than they would if no incentives were in place. This, of course, will mean even poorer test scores down the road for already struggling schools.

The bigger question, as Schwartz asks at the end: Why don't children get intrinsic satisfaction from learning in school, and how can this failing of education be fixed?


Thanks for your comment, Randy. I absolutely love your last sentence. I might just use it as the tag line for my email! Joanne

I don't think it is a bad thing to offer some exrinsic rewards for attendance and test performance. My concern is the concept of offering cash as a reward. It seems a little unbalanced to me. I think we should keep the extrinsic rewards more balanced and continue to focus on building the intrinsic rewards. The bottom line is teaching and learning. If we are doing a great job teaching, the students will often do a better job learning.

Add comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." — Walt Disney