Recruitment & Retention

Motivated by Money

By Kevin Bushweller — January 18, 2007 1 min read
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“Show me the money!”

That’s the motivational slogan teacher Geralyn Raach uses with her 3rd graders at Central Elementary School in Coshocton, Ohio, to entice the youngsters to work harder, according to a recent story in Education Week that details an unusual research experiment in that Ohio district to pay students modest cash awards for passing or doing well on state exams.

Such an experiment is a virtual slap in the face to advocates of intrinsic motivation, who argue that such extrinsic motivators are educational gimmicks that might have some short-term results, but little impact over the long term. As the Education Week story points out, too, the effort runs counter to the findings from decades of research in motivational psychology.

To be sure, the critics have justifiable concerns. Some are even worried that cash for test scores could actually kill the internal desire to learn.

Still, such efforts are worth investigating. And that is all they are doing in Coshocton. They are testing an experiment. And if a little bit of extra cash can get a kid who hates math to work at it anyway, and eventually learn important concepts, then schools will have to weigh that important philosophical question: Do the ends justify the means?

I can’t tell you how many times my kids tell me that my life at work is better than their life at school because I get paid to work, but they don’t get paid to go to school. I usually brush off such comments, but maybe they have a point. Maybe they’d like to say to their teachers after acing a test: “Show me the money!”

Then again, maybe not. What do you think?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.