Education Letter to the Editor

The Reverse Incentive of Rewards for Learning

June 09, 2008 1 min read

To the Editor:

It is ironic that the research reported in your story “Reading Scores Given ‘Bump’ By Student Incentives, Study Finds” (June 4, 2008) came from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. After all, it was the Stanford psychologist Mark R. Lepper, working with colleagues 35 years ago, who found that extrinsically rewarding children subsequently causes them to have less intrinsic interest in whatever it is for which they are being rewarded. So, for example, in Mr. Lepper’s and others’ studies, children who liked to draw and were given prizes for their drawings later were found to want to draw less than another matched group of children who received no prizes.

The problem with rewarding students for reading is that while you may increase reading scores in the short term, you unintentionally convey the message that reading has little intrinsic value, that it is only worthwhile because it leads to prizes. When the prizes are removed, the reading behavior decreases or disappears.

Hence, if what you are hoping to do is develop a lifelong love of reading in children, merely rewarding them with money or MP3 players is not the way to do it.

Patrick Mattimore

Gex, France

To the Editor:

School-based reward programs—wow, what a great idea! Now I can stop trying to show students how to connect learning strategies with test-taking strategies—plus, I can teach them that mastery-learning goals are really not that necessary.

And, I have another incentive to offer my students: “Lollies after every SAT or ACT,” I say!

Len Lojewski

Dupont, Pa.

A version of this article appeared in the June 11, 2008 edition of Education Week as The Reverse Incentive of Rewards for Learning