The Buck Starts Here?

My wife homeschools our three children.  Frequently I hear about the lack of interest and initiative from one or another child in relation to their studies.  We have good kids and smart kids, but they’re still kids.  They’d rather be playing video games or frolicking at the beach than hitting the books and doing their lessons.

Should we pay them to do well on their assignments or tests?
As the author notes, this concept really doesn’t sit well with me.  Is it just jealousy that I wasn’t paid to do well in school?  Is there an intrinsic value to pushing children to develop self-discipline?  Is the threat of punishment (groundings, reduction of privileges, etc.) a more virtuous motivation than cold, hard cash?
At the end of the day, paying students to push themselves to achieve demonstrates more of a desire on our part that students achieve in specific ways then it seems to necessarily aid students in learning or retention.  This is the hunch I found after ruminating on this issue for, oh, at least a good 60 seconds or so.  Paying someone else to do something reflects ultimately on my own sense of priorities, what I consider important and worth doing.  Whether I have been paid to flip burgers or share the Gospel (and I’ve been compensated for both, sometimes simultaneously), it reflects the importance of that particular action to the person(s) paying me.  It may (and ideally should) reflect my own view of what is important as well, but it might not.  I could just be doing it for the bucks.  
When I read the abstract of the study referenced in the blog above, I found the last sentence to be very interesting in this regard.  “Our findings also imply that in the absence of immediate incentives, many students put forth low effort on standardized tests, which may create biases in measures of student ability, teacher value added, school quality and achievement gaps.” (emphasis mine)
In other words, the study doesn’t focus on any long-term benefits to the students for having worked harder to score better on tests on the off-chance or surety of immediate reward.  But it clearly notes that such improved scores mean a LOT to the educational system.  While it’s arguable whether scoring well on standardized tests means much in the long term, it provides an immediate incentive of a different kind to the teacher, the school (and the administration of said school), the school district, purveyors of curricula, and a host of other attendant industries.  
So what is the incentive really doing, and for whom?  It seems at first blush that it’s as much about justifying an educational model as it is about creating long-term success or happiness or whatever for the students themselves.  None of which means that compensating students in some regard may not be a reasonable thing to consider.  But we ought to be very clear on who is paying, and why.
 

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