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Pay for Performance

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Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College, wrote a fascinating op-ed piece in the New York Times this week about New York City's plan to pay students up to $500 for doing well in school. Mr. Schwartz argues that offering external perks to students can actually be detrimental in the long run because the expectation of rewards replaces the intrinsic satisfaction students receive from learning.

Fellow Education Week blogger Diane Ravitch also tore into the plan last month in this piece on The Huffington Post.

Growing up, I was always envious of kids whose parents gave them money for getting good grades. Would I have worked any harder in school if my parents had done the same? I was a straight-A student, so probably not. Would I be less interested in learning now, as an adult? I'm glad I didn't get the chance to find out.

4 Comments

What kind of a precedent would this practice establish? Clearly, some Pavlovian students will be challenged in the future to be adequately/appropriately motivated for ordinary tasks other kids will take for granted. Bribery is seldom, if ever, the best form of motivation. Bloomberg and Klein have made a bad decision here, very bad

A Parent's comment: If we pay a waitress extra for personal service it is a "tip"; if we pay a legislator for personal service it is a "bribe". Parents don't get paid incentive pay for performance as a parent, such performance is expected as part of their personal responsibility. Students should also be motivated by personal satisfaction. However such internal motivation begins with parental guidance (teaching)from the toddler years. The educational community needs to reach out to educate parents how to educate their children to be proficient at being a student (organizational and study skills). Internal motivation is a learned skill. GPA recognition should not the prime reward for academic success, personal satisfaction for attaining knowledge and usable skill should be the prime reward.

Internal motivation is a learned skill that comes from seeing the benefits of learning which often appear as extrinsic motivation. There is nothing wrong with offering rewards for excellent performances. People who go to school to study medicine might get a good feeling from helping people (intrinsic), but they also enjoy monetary benefits like a comfortable vacation in the Carolinas every summer (extrinsic). There is nothing wrong with teaching hardwork to achieve certain material rewards. When people are motivated to do something extrinsically they approach it and often learn they are interested in it after experiencing it, then they become intrinsically motivated to pursue it for their own personal rewards.

Motivating others can only be accomplished if the person wants to be motivated. A person without the slightest inclination of interest will not be motivated to perform a task. Without intrinsic motivation, money and/or tangible items can only hold a person’s interest for a little while before self satisfaction and self worth overcome greed.

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