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A student says money can be a motivator, but not a good one

Angelica is one of two students who are writing occasional columns for GothamSchools on their experiences attending a New York City public school. Read her previous post.

Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who is set to change schools as we know them in NYC, claims that every student could be an A-student. That is, as long the right incentive is applied.

Fryer plans to pay students for every A they get. He thinks they would work more diligently if they were paid for good performance. He is presently testing the idea in some schools in New York City.

Honestly, would I work harder at school if I were getting paid? Duh.

That basically goes unsaid. When I asked my classmate at NYCiSchool, Kyjah Coryat, if she would put more effort into her grades if given money, she was quick to say she would. “Obviously. That would give me something more to strive for,” she said. Realistically, few teenagers would refuse the money given the chance; it’s common logic.

Undoubtedly, Fryer’s method could be effective. However, whether it is ethical is another issue.

The “A” itself at the end of the semester should be a student’s ultimate reward, not Fryer’s money. A good grade, and the opportunities that it can bring, should be motivation enough. By including money in this equation, schools will cause students to thirst for cash rather than knowledge.

Yes, perhaps our test grades would improve, but for all the wrong reasons. The smarter kids are the ones that are willing to learn without instant gratification and without having to be rewarded for something they are meant to accomplish to begin with, not the ones that have to be bribed.

In truth, by giving low-performing students money for good grades, we are actually giving up on them. We are basically stating that the only means by which they are willing and able to learn is through bribery.

If this is the only way students can be convinced to work hard and learn, even if it is for their own benefit, then serious holes have been burned already in our system.

In schools, knowledge should be the only currency.

In my next post, I will discuss what exactly should be used to motivate students, instead of money.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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