If you really want to boost student academic achievement, schools should reward students with money for high grades. Now, you can get all sophisticated and deep with me about how this reflects commodification and reification, but the reality is money can be used as a serious vehicle for positively improving academic achievement. For many students who are not performing well academically, money can be the incentive that they need to work to ameliorate their grades. Schools can seek private money from various foundations and individuals to fund the effort of rewarding students for higher academic achievement. Students who make the Honor Roll should be paid. I often hear many parents say that it’s the job of their children to do their school work. Well, then, let’s pay those children when they make the Honor Roll for the good work that they do on their “job.”
For students coming from low-income homes, the money that they receive for high grades can help them to survive. If you want to see minority and low-income students have a greater incentive to close the academic achievement gap, pay them to close that academic achievement gap. You will see that achievement gap get smaller and smaller. We have to be willing to try innovative things to increase academic achievement in America. Don’t allow your lack of an open mind on what I’m saying in this piece to prevent you from seeing the potential of paying students for higher grades to be one thing that we can do to bolster academic achievement.
I’m not asserting that paying students for higher grades is the panacea for the academic achievement problems students are facing across the country. Of course, students need more than just money to improve their academic achievement, but I want us to consider how rewards (like money) can be powerful motivating forces in creating change. Many students can improve their grades if they change the way they view their grades. If they know that there is money attached to getting high grades, they are certainly more likely to work tremendously hard to achieve high grades.
Although I come from economically well off family, receiving money served as a strong influencing force that kept me making good grades. Therefore, if you have children who are already making good grades, having schools to pay them for making those good grades will help them to keep making good grades. Many students need to see some type of tangible and meaningful immediate reward for getting good grades. Money is tangible, meaningful, and immediate.
Many who oppose the idea of paying K-12 students for making high grades contend that it sends the wrong message to students because they become more focused on the money than learning. Well, if they are not focused on learning right now, then we need something to cause them to at least begin to think about improving their grades. When they start to think about improving their grades for the money, they will have to have some focus on learning because they must learn to get higher grades.
One of the greatest challenges we have in the K-12 educational pipeline today is ameliorating Black male academic achievement. Black male students academically underperform all students throughout the educational pipeline. Many Black male students in urban areas see that it’s easier to go make some money selling drugs than it is to go to school and do some homework that is not going to produce them some immediate money. They find that they cannot be concerned with thoughts about college in the future because they have to survive right now. Now, just imagine if we were able to tell these Black males that if they make high grades they can get paid for those grades. I am confident that many more of them would choose to become more engaged with their studies than with things that will lead them to incarceration.
Okay, let’s just say that my proposal to pay students for getting high grades does not dramatically improve academic achievement. That’s fine! We should be thankful for the students this proposal does help. What’s wrong with putting my proposal into action on a trial basis on a national level to see what happens. I really don’t see any serious harm that can be done by trying this out. Paying students for high grades just might be what we need to jumpstart academic achievement in this country!
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison