How About Paying Parents for Their Kids’ Good Grade? This Guy Is Really Thinking Like a Freak

(Photo: woodleywonderworks)

(Photo: woodleywonderworks)

In  Think Like a Freak, we touch briefly on paying schoolkids for good grades — which, much of the time, isn’t successful. This inspired a note from a reader named Gary Crowley, who describes himself as “an economics major in college many years ago”:

Hey Guys,

Loved Think Like a Freak.

One thought: Why don’t we trying paying parents for kids getting good grades??? If the parents are motivated to make money, from someone else’s hard work, then they’ll make the kids work harder and want them to stay in school.  I think paying the kids doesn’t take  advantage of the leverage of a parent over their child.  Just a thought.

As a child in the feudal system of a blue-collar Irish-Catholic East Coast family, my Dad took great pride in and took the credit for his beautiful lawn. This would be the same lawn that his children did all the work on. Haha. Don’t see why it wouldn’t work for grades. And I’m sure the parents would be just as proud, even if they’re getting paid.

Gary’s note may also be referring to a brief passage in Think about the parents of schoolkids:

[M]aybe, when we talk about why American kids aren’t doing so well, we should be talking less about schools and more about parents.

In our society, if someone wants to be a hairstylist or a kickboxer or a hunting guide—or a schoolteacher—he or she must be trained and licensed by a state agency. No such requirement is necessary for parenthood. Anyone with a set of reproductive organs is free to create a child, no questions asked, and raise them as they see fit, so long as there are no visible bruises—and then turn that child over to the school system so the teachers can work their magic. Maybe we are asking too much of the schools and too little of our parents and kids?


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  1. Abby says:

    I used to think that you shouldn’t receive an incentive for something you should do anyway (such as grades) but I am not sure I feel that way any longer. Honestly, being a grown up is all about receiving incentives for things that we do-work, following laws, etc. In an ideal world, no one would need these incentives, but in an ideal world my children would clean up their rooms on their own without the threat of grounding.

    I do find two other arguments against incentives more compelling-grade inflation (which I do think is real but not as pervasive as people think) and the concept of shaming parents. I hate judging parenting and comparisons. We all fall short at least some of the time. Of course, no one needs to know who receives payments and who doesn’t. It would be up to the recipient to share that information just like most non-public employee salaries are confidential.

    However, I would prefer to pay kids for grades and pay parents for other participation such as volunteering in the school, attending PTA meetings, attending parent-teacher conferences, etc. Think Like A Freak states that parent involvement in schools is the most important factor.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      If you want parents to attend PTA meetings, I think you could achieve that not with cash, but with providing free child care (for all ages, not just students) and free supper (for everyone: “Save time, money, and hassle. Don’t cook tonight; just come eat here while we talk about the school”).

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0
      • JimFive says:

        If you want me to go to PTA meetings how about convincing me that the PTA does something useful.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0
      • Enter your name... says:

        Oh, but PTA does something useful. PTA might not do anything useful that you care about, but that’s different.

        PTA provides a useful outlet for parents (mostly mothers) who need social opportunities and want to have the psychological experience of “helping” and “being involved” and “supporting the school”. It schedules volunteers and engages in significant fundraising, which is very useful to teachers who don’t want to spend their own money on extra supplies and to taxpayers who don’t want to pay for playground monitors, teachers’ aides, parking lot attendants, supplies, or treats. It organizes various holiday events, which is very useful to teachers who don’t want to hassle so much with these “optional” (read: mandatory) celebrations. It distracts parents from more effective forms of funding schools (useful to “taxpayer advocates”) and organizes parents to support school bond measures (useful to the school board).

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  2. Nathan says:

    I think the economists guide to parenting provided pretty good evidence that parents would have little influence on grades. I have one child who gets straight As and we barely even mention school to him and another that really struggles despite the fact that we are providing him as much support as we can muster.

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  3. jane says:

    There is hardly a market for grades. Schools in poor neighbourhoods can’t afford to pay parents a living wage for the kids doing well in school. And schools in better neighborhoods can’t afford to make a difference in family budgets either.

    It boils down to whether parents think their kids good grades are important enough to bother. And society can’t afford to make it their while via money. It only works as social pressure, via making better money after getting a better education, having a path to better life by completing school, etc..

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  4. Jennifer says:

    It seems like paying parents’ for their child’s work will only encourage them to do the work for their child – write research essay, construct science fair projects, etc. Also, this greatly disadvantages poor families where parents often work longer hours and are less available or students who do not have a parent as their primary guardian.

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  5. Ryan N says:

    I bet in at least half the cases, this would just lead parents to excessively punishing the kid for doing poorly, and when the kid did well, they’d probably blow the money on something stupid that doesn’t benefit the family.

    A lot of people are just bad at being people.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
  6. Enter your name... says:

    Paying kids for performance is not a new idea. There’s a hoary tradition of “weekly allowance”, payment of which is often dependent upon performance of household chores or performance in school.

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    • dd says:

      Yes, doing work within the household, paid for with the family’s money.

      Don’t conflate payment from outside family (paid for by unicorn farts, perhaps) with a family unit deciding how to allocate it’s own resources.

      What this is more analogous to are the various children’s programs in hard line fascist and communist countries, where the children are providing a “service” to the state, through information procurement or some “state’s honor” type action, like winning a sports competition.

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  7. rob says:

    “Maybe we are asking too much of the schools and too little of our parents and kids?”

    Having three kids that are brighter than most (subjective but say for a minute that it is true) and having two of them finish high school, I can say that public schools focus on helping the remedial students, recognize the athletes, recognize the well behaved, and generally fail to recognize the students outside of these groups as long as their achievement test scores are passing.

    My older two worked and achieved decent grades, ending up to the top quarter of their graduating class, both will/are attend college.

    My youngest is a HS freshman, she is spending part of the next two days attending school-wide award ceremonies for the HS athletes, there are no similar school-wide events planned to recognize those students achieving academic honours aside from commencement for the graduating seniors. My
    daughter is academically gifted, in that she works hard and applies herself, gets a lot of class level recognition from individual teachers, but does not receive any school-level recognition (this year she placed in the top 10 in the state in three separate subjects, French, biology, and history).

    Asking for schools to do more for the students that are actually learning and succeeding is not asking for too much, it should be something that the schools recognize, reward and encourage. At best, these students receive recognition from a single teacher in a classroom while athletes get recognized at all-school events.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1
    • Enter your name... says:

      Most American schools have an annual award ceremony that includes academic achievements. Some have academic-only events, and some include sports. It’s usually in the late spring, so that local groups can use it to present small scholarships to some of the seniors. Phone your principal in the fall and ask when yours is scheduled for.

      (Don’t ask, “Do we have one of these?” Ask, “When is it?” Nearly all schools have one, but if yours doesn’t, you want the principal to be embarrassed to discover that community members expect one to exist.)

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  8. t says:

    All I can say is it was not the kids that made me give up teaching, it was the parents. The involvement that I had (in a parochial school in the Northeast) was “Johnny’s not passing. Make him pass.” As if it was my “magic” that could do so. So, paying the parents for their children’s good grades could backfire onto the teachers and make more of that.
    In my current career (public librarian), I see many parents come in to do their child’s research – to get the books, magazines, or online database printouts that Johnny needs to write his research assignment (um, who is writing? is what I often want to ask).
    By the same token, I do see quite a number of hardworking students come in and do their own homework, their own volunteer hours (often by tutoring others), and their own research.
    But it’s the kids of the parents who are doing the work for them that would be benefiting most, the kids of theirs who would suffer most, and the teachers of those kids who would pay the most if that plan went into action.

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