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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Paying Kids to Stay in School

David Whelan and Stuart Ablon argue that we should not pay kids to stay in school because adding extrinsic rewards (pay) to an intrinsically interesting activity (education) will undermine kids' interest in education (Letters, Boston Globe, January 17, 2010).

Their argument is flawed. The conditions under which intrinsic motivation is undermined by extrinsic rewards are quite subtle. If kids are rewarded for academic achievement, then paying for achievement will likely undermine the intrinsic motivation to achieve. However, if kids are paid for simply attending school, (that is for engaging in the activity rather than striving to accomplish excellence in the activity) then there is not likely to be an undermining effect (that is kids will still want to attend school).

Therefore I see no danger in the proposal (Lawrence Harmon, Boston Globe, January 12, 2010). In fact there will be major benefits to children whose life circumstances are characterized by poverty and the need to help support a family during their teen years.

On the other hand, I would argue that paying teachers on the basis of their students' achievement (grades and test scores) is very likely to reduce the teachers' intrinsic interest in the craft of teaching.

However I do agree with Whelan and Ablon that focusing on the barriers to a student's attendance at school is the key to developing appropriate solutions to the problems .

Sent to Boston Globe

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