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?



Yeah this won't impact grade inflation in poor neighborhoods AT ALL.


Mandate a curve, problem solved.

Edo Sebastian Jaya

I think it can be a great idea and worth an experimental investigation!

Eric R

I think the problem is that the small incentives that might motivate a grade school kid with no or little income will be meaningless to most adults.

A $50 bonus to a kid for improving their GPA a full grade letter would be a motivation to them. $50 to most adults to spend even one hour a week teaching their kids, not so much. And would an hour a week even be enough to make that kind of difference?


Eric, you are making the assumption that the improvement in grades will come from parents teaching their kids at home. Parents being interested, and expressing their interest, in their kids good grades is likely enough to improve the child's work ethic and thus grades. A small incentive is likely enough to make the parents interested and to make them express that interest to their children. It's so crazy it just might work!


Incentives are always fun examine because they are complicated. Remember to consider
motivational variables in individuals (e.g. personality, upbringing, culture, etc.). Variables could potentially be a.) perceived value in a "good grade", b.) perceived value of the reward (e.g. money), c.) motivational aspect of the parent (intrinsic vs. extrinsic). I am certain there are others. The motivation aspects for rewards/incentives are key to a successful program. If you look at the blue-collar, Irish-Catholic on the East Coast having pride in his yard as an example, does he have pride in his yard or is his pride in the yard the anti-shame he would feel having an unkempt yard. Is it "OK" to shame parents? Having a similar background to your writer (sans a yard), the shame my mother would feel if her children didn't bring home A's was a greater motivator for her than money, although family vacations would have been more Beach less State Park if she was paid for our grades.


Chaim shmulevitz

I can't imagine an economical model where your idea would be feasible (maybe in India)


My parents paid me for every A I got on my report card. Is this really a revolutionary concept?
Btw now I'm a nuclear engineer and I own house in Hawaii.


I have a hard time incentivizing something that should be done based on its own merits. If we continue to "pay" people for doing things that are in their own best interest we are not solving the underlying problems that cause them to not want to do the thing itself. We also create "incentive" for people to demand payment for other things they should be doing anyway.

Slippery slope and all that...


Any incentive for good grades is equally an incentive to cheat. It's much easier to do the homework than to teach the kids how to do it.

Enter your name...

In general, incentives should be based on things you have control over, like "Did your kid do his homework every day?" rather than "Did you child score in the top 50% of the class?" But this will lead to parents doing the homework (possibly making the child copy out the correct answers so that the handwriting is correct).


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.


Enter your name...

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").


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


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.


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..


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.

Ryan N

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.

Enter your name...

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.