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Why Extra Credit is Extra Wrong

Imagine you've given students a list of fifteen words with these directions: Write the definitions for ten of the following words. Now imagine several students, after writing definitions for all fifteen words, pressuring you to give them extra credit. How would you respond?

Well, here's how English teacher Helga Vutz responded when this exact scenario played out as I visited a recent class of hers at Esperanza Academy Charter High School in Philadelphia: "The extra credit I would give you is worth a lot less than the habit of reading directions."

"What a quick-on-your-feet, perfect response!" I later told Helga. It would, after all, be a disservice to students to reinforce behavior that could impede success for them down the road. For that matter, extra credit is usually a disservice to students when it comes to preparing them for future endeavors such as college and work--when was the last time you got paid extra for staying late to tutor kids or for calling parents during lunch or for grading papers on the weekend?

Similarly, when I worked in business, there was an unwritten expectation that employees would go above and beyond without additional compensation. And though the extent to which we went above and beyond may have been taken into account when it came to raises and promotions, those rewards were given annually at most, and were never guaranteed.

Extra credit in school, on the other hand, is often used to motivate (or bribe in my case early on) students on day-to-day tasks. And if that kind of motivation won't be there for students later on, why should it be there now? It shouldn't, which is why I say extra credit is extra wrong.
Thumbnail image for ExtraCreditSign.gif

Image provided by GECC, LLC with permission

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