Do Rewards for Learning Negate Interest in Learning?

Lisa Guerney, Rewards for Students Under a Microscope, NY Times, Mar. 4, 2009, D1.

There is an intense debate over whether to reward students for performance.  Psychologists have warned that extrinsic rewards (toys, money) can undermine the joy of learning for its own sake and can even lead to cheating.  Many economists and businesspeople disagree.  Reward systems that pay students are underway in many cities, as much as several hundred dollars for a high score on an Advanced Placement test.

A new focus on school reform has intensified efforts on both sides to gather data that may provide insights.  These programs are proliferating, especially in high-poverty areas.  In Washington, 14 public schools are distributing checks for good grades, attendance and behavior.  Research suggests that rewards may work in the short term but have damaging effects long term, such as less interest in performing tasks when the rewards stop coming.   A Penn State study, published last year in the journal Literacy Research and Instruction showed that rewarding third graders with toys and candy diminished the time they spent reading, with some not returning to reading at all.

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