Paying For Grades: No. Yes. Maybe.

When it comes to giving your children cash for good grades, families have mixed reactions. The sides become as polarized as participants in a televised presidential debate. Some adamantly oppose the idea, stating that school should not be treated as a paying job. Others favor a cash incentive. Still others haven’t used money as a reward yet, but aren’t signing off on the idea either.

No to the Dough

“It was just expected of us to try our hardest in school,” says Moorhead mother and Fargo preschool teacher, Michele Gedgaud. “I didn’t get paid for grades and I don’t pay my kids for good grades.” Gedgaud stressed the importance of good grades to her kids right from the beginning. She told them they’d need good grades to get into college. “We don’t insist on all A’s, we just ask that they do the best they can and give 100 percent effort.”

Kellie Albrecht, mom to 5-year-old Henry, says she finds the concept of paying for grades a funny one. She was not paid for grades growing up and has no intention of paying her son for grades. “There’s a book called ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink that argues that payment for something like grades is actually demotivating,” says Albrecht.

Pink discusses motivation in great detail in his book. But one of his examples demonstrates when parents reward tasks like getting good grades with money, the grades are then perceived as “work,” which may decrease a student’s desirability to achieve them.

To date, there is really no strong evidence that indicates paying students for grades works over the long-term. Renowned University of Rochester psychologist Edward Deci argues that rewards might work in the short-term, but over time it may have the opposite effect—especially when the reward is removed. Deci and his colleague, Richard Ryan, have spent decades studying human motivation. In the July-August 2010 Rochester Review, author Karen McCally reports, “Deci’s and Ryan’s most startling finding was that rewards such as prizes and money were not only less effective than behavioral psychologists had long supposed, but under some circumstances could actually diminish people’s feelings of engagement and motivation.”

Moorhead parents Amanda and Shawn Bagne do not pay their daughters for grades, either.

“Learning is its own reward,” says Amanda, a family and consumer science teacher at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Schools. “I think it would be difficult to know where to set the standards. Each child learns so differently.”

The Value of Cash

Award-winning “mompreneur” and author Lori Mackey is dedicated to teaching kids valuable lessons in money management. She is the founder of Prosperity4Kids, Inc. Mackey wholeheartedly supports paying kids for grades as a way to teach kids about money. “I’m educating my kids how money works in the world they live in,” says Mackey.

“It’s a positive financial plan for the whole family,” explains Mackey. “Parents invest in their kids’ grades now, and with good grades come the opportunities for scholarships and other financial assistance that can diminish college costs.”

Luke Klefstad, Grand Forks father to three kids ages 14, 11, and 5, started paying for grades when his kids reached fourth grade. His plan looks like this: $2 for 3’s and 4’s during elementary school and $5 per A in middle school. The kids also get an extra $10 for making the A honor roll.

“I set it up for some of the same reasons I had it growing up—as a motivator to get and maintain good grades, and a reward for working hard in school,” Klefstad says. Growing up, he and his three sisters were paid for grades. He says the family didn’t have a lot of money back then, nor did they get an allowance, so getting paid was a really big deal.

Alex Howard’s family believed in cash for grades, too. Howard, a 2007 Fargo South graduate says, “The most I could get was $20.” It was based on his overall grade point average. An A average was worth $20; B average $10; C average nothing; D average he paid $10; F average he paid $20. “I was the baby of the family, so I think my parents kind of gave up on motivating talks—they just offered me money when I did well.” Howard says his parents used money as a motivator until he was able to get a paying job. Then, he was responsible enough to motivate himself to get good grades and his parents stopped paying for them.

University of Chicago economist John List sees cash for grades as simply an incentive plan, something consumers deal with every day. He uses the example of the government wanting us to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, so they give us incentives and subsidies to do so.

Mackey reminds parents to let the cash reward system grow and change as kids’ abilities show themselves. For instance, when her son struggled with grades, instead of getting rewarded for an A, he was rewarded for improving his grade a letter. And, because Mackey is devoted to teaching kids about money, the cash for grades went into her kids’ savings accounts. Adding to it regularly, combined with the benefit of compounded interest, gave them a nice start to purchasing their own car when the time came.

Maybe Someday

Kjersten and Andy Skatvold of Moorhead, parents of three boys ages 8, 6, and 4, primarily use verbal encouragement and teaching techniques to motivate their boys to do well. Kjersten admits they haven’t ruled out money down the road.

“In the future, when they have more of a need for money, I would give it a thought,” says the former Fargo special education teacher. “My hope would be that they are intrinsically motivated to do well for themselves, but I am not naive to the fact that kids do need to have an increased motivator as they grow older.”

Tracy Briggs Jensen and Mark Jensen of Moorhead feel similarly. Parents to 10-year-old and 8-year-old girls, Tracy says they have chosen not to pay for grades in favor of other motivators like praise and getting involved with their schools. However, they aren’t opposed to the idea.

“It’s never really come up,” she says. “The girls are pretty self-motivated, so I guess we haven’t felt the need to start. But, never say never. If the situation changed, I would consider it.”

Other Reward Ideas

Obviously a cash reward is just one way to recognize a job well done. It’s all about finding a special way to show you appreciate your child’s efforts.

Money was tight for Marg Hohnadel, Fargo, when she was raising her four kids, so she wouldn’t always use a monetary reward, but felt recognizing their achievements was important. “I think giving kids an added incentive to do good work is a very positive thing. There is plenty of incentive to do other things for today’s kids.” She would acknowledge her kids’ grades with a special meal, a family outing, or playing a favorite family game.

One of the ways the Jensens reward their daughters also teaches them to set their priorities. Their daughters know that if they keep up with their school work, they’re allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities, such as figure skating. But mostly, the family uses encouragement and praise.

“They really respond to praise from their teachers and from us,” Tracy Briggs Jensen says. “So when they get a good grade, we give them lots of encouragement. I think that makes them want to keep doing well.”

“We make sure to pin up tests, papers, and assignments on the fridge at home so that when our relatives come over they see how well the girls are doing in school,” Tracy adds. “I think a pat on the back from grandparents, aunts, and uncles means a lot to them.”

Shelly and Mike Strand of Fargo also motivate their two sons, ages 11 and 8, with verbal praise. They hope to teach their boys that doing well in school is its own reward—but it doesn’t hurt to get a few compliments from Mom, Dad, or Grandma, either.

“We talk a lot about the importance of doing their best,” says Shelly, a science teacher at West Fargo High School. “It’s not the grade, but the effort that we are looking for.”

Self-Motivation and a Love of Learning

Whatever reward methods you choose, you want your children to do well in school. You also likely want to develop two characteristics—a love of learning and self-motivation. As your children age, you’ll realize they need to grasp more of their own educational responsibility, one they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives.

Teaching their two boys, ages 14 and 8, to be very self-motivated with their school work is important to Chris and Michelle Roeszler of Fargo. Michelle, a preschool teacher at Our Redeemer Christian Children’s Center in Moorhead, says their sons are in charge of their homework assignments and know to ask for help if they need it. It’s the same approach her own parents took with Michelle and her brother, she says.

“My parents were mostly hands-off,” Michelle says. “They checked in with us to make sure we were keeping up with homework and were there for us if we did need help.”

Amanda Bagne says she and her husband talk a lot about their kids’ educations and self-motivation, too. “We need to encourage kids to be self-motivating and accountable for their own success.”

All of the rewards, encouragement, and effort now will hopefully lead to an important realization later. “I hope to teach my kids to work hard, even without an incentive other than doing a job well done and having a love for learning,” Michelle Roeszler says.

Tell us what you think! You can weigh in with your own thoughts about paying your children for good grades on our Facebook page at

Amanda Peterson is an award-winning writer with a love for the Web, social media, and magazines. She lives in Moorhead with her husband and two children.

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