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Motivated by Money

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"Show me the money!"

That's the motivational slogan teacher Geralyn Raach uses with her 3rd graders at Central Elementary School in Coshocton, Ohio, to entice the youngsters to work harder, according to a recent story in Education Week that details an unusual research experiment in that Ohio district to pay students modest cash awards for passing or doing well on state exams.

Such an experiment is a virtual slap in the face to advocates of intrinsic motivation, who argue that such extrinsic motivators are educational gimmicks that might have some short-term results, but little impact over the long term. As the Education Week story points out, too, the effort runs counter to the findings from decades of research in motivational psychology.

To be sure, the critics have justifiable concerns. Some are even worried that cash for test scores could actually kill the internal desire to learn.

Still, such efforts are worth investigating. And that is all they are doing in Coshocton. They are testing an experiment. And if a little bit of extra cash can get a kid who hates math to work at it anyway, and eventually learn important concepts, then schools will have to weigh that important philosophical question: Do the ends justify the means?

I can't tell you how many times my kids tell me that my life at work is better than their life at school because I get paid to work, but they don't get paid to go to school. I usually brush off such comments, but maybe they have a point. Maybe they'd like to say to their teachers after acing a test: "Show me the money!"

Then again, maybe not. What do you think?

4 Comments

It's really a Cath-22 of sorts. Teachers are also being motivated by the drive to produce verifiable results in their classrooms, and with many school districts choosing to give teachers bonuses for these results, all types of measures will be used.

Having worked as a teacher, I know how it is to bang your head on the desk trying to think of ways to get your students motivated. It may not be the best idea, but in this capitalist society, the youngest among us learn very quickly about the principles of supply and demand.

Yes, it's true that we live in a society motivated by money--but is this the society we want and is this the message we want to send to our students? Look at the statistics on cheating provided by the Josephson Institute's annual high school survey and Rutger University and Center for Academic Integrity member Prof Don McCabe's surveys on academic integrity---students are cheating in greater numbers. The message we keep sending is "Excel at any cost." I'd like to see our focus be directed on asking/challenging students to discover WHY it's important for them to do well in school and on tests. Once we open the door to their own examination of the kind of person they want to be and their "wants" in life, it's up to educators to make the connection between their wants and how to achieve them---through academic, social-emotional AND ethical success. When we give this opportunity to students, you'd be surprised at the results.

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The quickest way to kill intrinsic motivation is to reward someone for the activity. You can actually stop obnoxious behavior by paying for it and then decreasing/eliminating the payments.

The previous poster is correct to point the issue of cheating. When money is on the line, lots of unlikely people are found to "cross the line." See Freakonomics.

Students...and their parents...have been motivated by money for decades. It's called "college scholarships"!

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