NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 6, 2008

School districts nationwide have seized on the idea that a key to improving schools is to pay for performance, whether through bonuses for teachers and principals, or rewards like cash prizes for students, says the New York Times.


  • New York City is in the forefront of the movement, handing out more than $500,000 to 5,237 students in 58 schools as rewards for taking several of the 10 standardized tests on the schedule for this school year.
  • Nationally, school districts have experimented with a range of approaches; some are giving students gift certificates, McDonald's meals and class pizza parties.
  • Baltimore is planning to pay struggling students who raise their state test scores.

Nearly 90 percent of the New York City schools offered the chance to join the teacher bonus program are participating, and no teachers were willing to say the rewards were unwelcome.  Newer teachers seem particularly positive, saying the bonus was a rare chance to be rewarded.

Critics of these efforts say that children should be inspired to learn for knowledge's sake, not to earn money, and question whether prizes will ultimately lift achievement.  Anticipating this kind of argument, New York City was careful to start the student experiment with private donations, not taxpayer money, avoiding some of the controversy that has followed the Baltimore program, which uses public money.

Source: Jennifer Medina, "Next Question: Can Students Be Paid to Excel?" New York Times, March 5, 2008.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Education Issues