NC considering paying students for good grades

Posted April 11, 2011
Updated April 12, 2011

— Nine-year-old Samantha Hubbard's eyes popped open for an instant as the thought flashed through her mind.

Would she study harder if North Carolina offered to pay her $1,000 a year from first grade through high-school graduation if she came to class, behaved, and earned good grades?

It's a reach beyond rewards like gold stars and pizza parties. But dangling cash rewards could be the cheapest and most effective motivator to raise test scores and lower dropout rates, said Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, who is proposing the idea in legislation awaiting a committee hearing. If the money is paid to parents, that could get them more involved in helping their children succeed, he said.

"I think it's good. I think you should give the money to kids," said Samantha, the mention of a new bicycle in her ears.

Her parents weren't impressed.

"I think it's a bad idea. Even if the money went to me. I think that's a worse idea, for it to go to the parents. I think if you're going to do it it's going to have to go to the kids when they graduate," said Vanessa Hubbard, who with her husband David chaperoned their daughter's Archdale Elementary School class on a visit to the state museums in Raleigh. "No, our tax money shouldn't pay to motivate them as a parent."

But she pictured the effect a potential reward might have on Samantha.

"She would get us to help her to study harder so that she could get her money. That's how it would work," Vanessa Hubbard said.

grades Should NC pay students for getting good grades?

Whether the motivation springs from a child or from parents who start helping with homework, showing up at teacher conferences, or just prepping their youngster to meet the morning school bell on time, cash rewards might be worth a try, Hartsell said.

"We've tried a lot of other things. Cash incentives sometimes work," he said. "We create incentives for all kinds of other activities, primarily business. But why not this?"

Hartsell and co-sponsor Sen. Eric Mansfield, D-Cumberland, want to take their time looking at the pros and cons.

The first step is the General Assembly starting a two-year study of whether the state should offer student incentives, and whether a payout most motivates students, parents or teachers. The initial idea is to explore offering cash to each of the state's 1.4 million public school students from grades 1 through 12 who meet certain goals. Taking it slow would allow the public to decide whether they like or hate the idea, Hartsell said.

A statewide student rewards program would be a bold expansion beyond the experimenting that's been going on for years in local school districts.

Baltimore, New York City, Chicago, Houston, and Fulton County, Ga., have been testing programs that pay for learning. A technology entrepreneur started offering $250 checks in 2004 to high school students who excel in academics, community service, and attendance. The Challenge Program is now in 125 schools in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia.

Research in a field merging economics and education suggests that offering rewards can work, but don't always improve results.

A Stanford study of 250 charter schools in 17 states found that cash, MP3 players, or other gifts appears to improve reading skills. Students in Coshocton, Ohio, who were given cash if they performed well on state achievement tests did somewhat better in math, but not in reading. A Harvard study of more than 250 urban schools in Dallas, Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C., found that financial rewards worked better if they were tied not to results such as grades and test scores but to short-term behaviors like reading books and daily attendance.

"Incentives work but only when rationally designed, consistently applied and universally supported by those in charge of using the system," said Margaret Raymond, who authored the Stanford study. She said it may be too hard to legislate those conditions across a state, and more reasonable to leave local school systems to adapt to local conditions.

Duke University public policy and economics William Darity thinks paying kids for grades is a distraction from the more important task of insuring that all receive a high-quality instruction.

"I am convinced that we need to change the content of what kids are taught not necessarily change the kids," he said.

Chris Campbell of Archdale is also skeptical about paying kids to learn when there are so many other needs. He's concerned public schools are falling behind the rest of the world in math, science and the use of technology.

"I could see both sides of it — being a good idea to motivate, for the student to want to learn more or better. But also, at the same time, I think money could be better spent in the schools," said Campbell, who was on the same school field trip as the Hubbards.

Damario Leathers, a father of four, welcomes the idea of additional financial aid for his children's college accounts.

"It's a nice start," he said. "College – I want that for all of my children, so I support this program 100 percent."


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  • bigbadbill Apr 15, 2011

    I am not a teacher and have not had a raise either in several years. Why is there such a prevalent mentality among teachers that raises are automatic, or entitled. As for teachers putting in a vast majority of their time to have students do well on tests, I believe you will find that same language within your job description. I have friends who put in far more hours, in far less comfortable surrounding, for far less money.

  • hbh728 Apr 14, 2011

    Yes, by all means, let's reward this generation of students who are rarely made to EARN anything and just continue to overwork the teachers. Keep asking the teachers to work without a raise, begin to pay their own health insurance, and put in a vast majority of their time and effort in order for their students to perform well on the state test! That makes perfect sense!! As a teacher, I do not walk into a hospital and pretend to know the ins and out because I'm not trained in the medical field. So why does everyone think they know how to teach without ever stepping inside a classroom other than when they were a student?

  • bigbadbill Apr 14, 2011

    With so many negative comments, I thought I would play devil's advocate a bit. If we paid students exclusively in the form of voucher value to be applied towards higher education tuition, this could be a beneficial program. With so many students taking on large student loans, having monies accrued from a very young age would be very helpful, and also allow an even playing field for disadvantaged students to obtain funding for higher education they may not otherwise have access to.

    As for how we would pay for such a thing, we are already paying for defaulted student loans in some form I am sure, and not to mention with this incentive there will be at least some students who will "get with the program" early on and avoid government assistance in later years. The program would likely be a "pay now and save later" scenario.

    I would agree it is parent and student responsibility to perform - and I don't think this program should solely be based on attendance, or behavior. This should be

  • rleann Apr 13, 2011

    This sends a bad message to students. You obtain an education for the sake of an education. You don't get paid for everything in life. It is a parent's responsibility to make sure kids go to school. How about this--let's start PENALIZING students for dropping out by making them PAY THE STATE? We are going to have to pay for them anyway because they will probably end up on welfare without an educaion of some sort. If our government passes this, I will make it my mission to know EVERY POLITICIAN WHO VOTED IN FAVOR OF IT and will NEVER SUPPORT THEM in the future--I don't care if they are Democrat or Republican. This is just IDIOTIC.

  • dlboucher1 Apr 13, 2011

    This has got to be the craziest thing I have heard!!! I'm an educator plus I had 3 children who have graduated from a CCS. It was my RESPONSIBILITY as a parent to make sure my children behaved in school, attended school and help them with their homework. Paying a parent for being a parent is absolutely stupid!!! With all the cuts the school system is facing now and all the cuts the state has done and continue to do to teachers we are now thinking of paying a parent to be a parent!!! Get REAL NC!!! Wake up!!!

  • bigbadbill Apr 13, 2011

    Not a terrible plan if the money is used exclusively for higher education purposes. I also see some comments to this story from self-described educators rife with spelling, grammatical and usage errors that is quite disturbing. This usually comes along with comments that support a union mentality of entitlement, not surprisingly. It is time to move past that now and pay for performance, for the teachers and even for the students if it is done in the interests of furthering their education.

  • bb2006 Apr 12, 2011

    What a horrible idea. We are already making teachers work without pay, and we want to pay the STUDENTS???? How about we take that money and put it toward hiring more qualified teachers. What a waste of tax dollars for just coming up with the idea. Time to vote him out!

    Studies can show whatever they want to show, as far as incentives. Did they take into account all variables associated with higher grades in those studies???

  • rhayle Apr 12, 2011

    where will money come from ? and when 12 years of school do u think state will give money?

  • trowe58 Apr 12, 2011

    I think that this is a great idea. But we need to make sure that all of us older kids (53 here) get our fair share too.

    Since it looks like I am not going to be able to collect my Social Security with all the cutbacks. I can just have the state send me my $12,000 for completing high school, complete with interest. It should help me catch up on my retirement.

    What does a first grader need with a $1000 bucks?

  • mdl1025 Apr 12, 2011

    I am a parent of two high school kids and I think this is a horrible idea. Where is the common sense of our elected officials to even suggest something like this. And know many state teachers and workers and how long it is been since some have had raises this is crazy to put out state money for this.