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. NZ says:

    There’s a lot of money and celebrity to be gained, apparently, by blaming anyone–ANYONE–except students for their own bad grades:

    • It’s the teachers, who just teach to the test and let the kids cheat!
    • It’s the schools, which don’t make learning fun enough and don’t feed the kids well enough!
    • It’s the funding; there’s not enough resources and money pouring into education!
    • It’s the parents, who don’t take enough responsibility or time to make sure their kids are doing the work!
    • It’s TV! It’s the internet! It’s cell phones! It’s video games! These are distracting the kids!

    How about this instead:

    1. Establish a curriculum and stick to it.
    2. Fail kids who don’t master the material.
    3. Discipline “problem” kids, and if they don’t respond to discipline, remove them from the classroom and let them work. (A 7 year-old can sweep floors and dust window panes just fine.)
    4. Stop telling every kid to go to college. Most of them shouldn’t.

    “What?! We can’t do that! It’s too radical! It’s not something that a country like America should ever do!”

    That’s exactly what America used to do, and doing this produced the generation that beat the Nazis and put Niel Armstrong on the moon.

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  2. geoff fernald says:

    Stephen, I wanted to mention a book about happiness in regard to your comment last night at the end of your talk at the Castro theater. The title is: Dandelion Wine. In it there is a great story broken up in several different places about ‘The Happiness Machine’. I think you’ll like it. Author is Ray Bradbury

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  3. Marian Kechlibar says:

    If the payment is small, it won’t be much of an incentive.

    If it is big enough to be an incentive, it will be an incentive to try gaming the system…

    1. Outright bribery (dividing the payment with the teacher in exchange for inflated grades).
    2. Various kinds of coercion (threatening to accuse the teacher of sexual assault if grades aren’t inflated).

    The whole problem is probably intractable. It is almost impossible to force people into working hard, if they have no inner drive to do so.

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  4. Everson says:

    I’m surprised that none of the other Brazilian readers of the blog mentioned the several social programs currently in place by the Brazilian Government. They comprise of several different payments awarded to low income families monthly.

    It used to be that one of the requirements to keep a familiy eligible for the income was that any kids in the family should attend school. I don’t know if that is still a requirement nowadays.

    The ‘Bolsa-Família’ program makes a huge difference for a lot of families (in the sense that it puts food on the table) and allowed several families to actually become consumers (which is a requirement in Brazil, because that is how our Government attempts to build wealth). But I don’t know if it made a real difference in the quality of the education or the level of educated children.

    That’s because attending school is different than learning. I know that the suggestion called for paying incentives for good performance, not for attending, but still, it may bring some data into the discussion.

    Also, for people that are not concerned about gaming the system (like grading on a curve or the fact that parents won’t be able to do the kid’s test), well, as long as your system relies solely on tests as criteria, maybe you are right. Another novelty in Brazil is that kids get evaluated by tests, by activities in class, by extra-class activities and by less formal criteria (such as teacher’s discretion).

    Yes, we are pushing kids forward and building students that are done with their formal studies, yet are really not prepared for either college or the professional career.

    I count myself amongst those that think that we should not add monetary incentives to achievements that are nothing more than what is expected. As a parent, I am fully engaged into my daughter’s education and achievements. Just like my parents were with me.

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  5. Diane says:

    Don’t you think some parents will blame the usual suspects, the teachers, if little Johnny doesn’t get them a check? How could you prove it had anything at all to due with the parents? I say pay the students!

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  6. Sharmila says:

    So this particular perspective on the whole reward-your-kids thing is so obvious and over-worked (hello Tiger-mom)! it almost isn’t worth mentioning, but since nobody else has and it wasn’t mentioned in your movie, here goes…
    The reason immigrant Asian kids in particular do so well when they move to the West is that they understand that studying and getting good grades IS their job, and there isn’t an opt-out clause. They are fed daily stories of how fortunate they are, how hard their parents worked for their future, and the least they could do is get straight As. They are rewarded with praise and treats for exceptional achievement (winning prizes, coming first in class and the like) but mere good grades are taken as a given. Their appeals to be treated similarly to their less hard working “American” friends are met with scorn and derision, and it is clear that they are being held to far higher standards. This inculcates a sense of inner (and innate) exceptionalism as well as a hard work ethic and aptitude for delaying gratification, all skills that are probably very useful to them for the rest of their life.
    This phenomenon has been described in multiple immigrant groups at different times in history of course, but it is in the modern Asian- American context that it seems to have been best studied and recognized (plus that’s what I’m personally most familiar with!).
    Taking the reward out of context and simply paying kids for grades, while it makes economic sense, does not seem to function even half as well as when the child’s entire life is structured around this ethos. Unfortunately without a cultural change and active parental involvement from a very young age, I’m not sure the “immigrant” model can be translated to the native born. Even among Asian families there is evidence that these gains are lost and achievement reverts to average population levels by the 3rd generation.

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  7. Voice of Reason says:

    Even if this does technically work, I’m against it on principle. If they’re complaining about how the elite and the rich have all of the opportunities, why are they not taking advantage of them when they’re handed to them on a silver platter? So now we not only have to pay for their children’s education, but we have to pay them for letting their children take advantage of these opportunities that people would kill for in other parts of the world? Where is the accountability?

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  8. allan says:

    This stuff absolutely won’t work. It’s crazy. If incentives actually worked we might have to reduce our entitlements because that would mean entitlements were incentivizing able and healthy people not to work.

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    • Voice of Reason says:

      Incentives clearly do work. If you haven’t noticed, we’ve given incentives for generations of people in certain communities to sit on their porch and do nothing all day and pop out babies, and they’ve taken advantage of it.

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      • allan says:

        I offered you an incentive to look closer and it worked you looked closer, but not close enough. Of course incentives work. You are totally correct we have given the wrong incentives to many people.

        My statement was a bit of sarcasm that you despite your understanding of things missed. I wonder what will happen with those that believe that the over abundance of entitlements are an economic boom for America.

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    • Voice of Reason says:

      No, we’re definitely on the same page Allan. I think that we as a society need to stop subsidizing the parenthood of people who have no business of being parents. Being a parent is a wonderful reward and a privilege, but it should not be a right. If you want to do the right thing, and make it a little easier for people in abject poverty, make those payments and benefits without regards to dependents, and take away the deductions for children in our tax code. Make child services more aggressive, and guarantee that children don’t have to pay for their parents mistakes, but failed parents don’t have the lifetime reward of children that society pays for.

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