Pay for performance: Should students (aka your future employees) be paid to excel?

Last week, my a cappella chorus had the distinct pleasure to give out a scholarship to a recently graduated senior who plans to study musical composition at the Oberlin Conservatory for Music. This young women is extraordinarily talented: not only is she blessed with an impressive singing voice, she play four or five instruments AND writes music AND maintains a GPA that is just shy of 5.0. She also happens to be a remarkably poised and eloquent person, way beyond her 17 years.

I'm not blessed with children myself, but I am in awe with all that we ask of kids today—from preschool sports teams to intense tutoring at the ripe old age of, say, 8 or 9. My friend who lives in Manhattan subjected her girl to multiple interviews (I'm talking probably 10 each) at something like a dozen New York City schools before they settled. (This was for first grade, mind you.) More recently, this same young one auditioned for (and was accepted to) an elite ballet school. She sure will be prepared to deal with job interviews 15 years from now.

All this background is by way of leading up to a post I stumbled across in the Harvard Business Review about a program that proposes to offer incentives to students for doing well. The essay is about an effort in Washington, DC, called Capital Gains being tested in 15 public middle schools that gives out points for things such as attendance, homework completion and test performance. If they do it right, students can earn up to $1,500 per year, although the average is apparently $750.

Here's the complete HBR blog for your reference.

Personally speaking, I was always wired to be curious, sort of like Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland." So I was initially somewhat appalled by this whole idea. To me, it seems like just another way to spoil kids for something they SHOULD be doing.

But I have enough friends with "problem" children to know that every person is not inspired the same way. Some of them can't wait to get out into the job market where they can do what they do best, be social and work on teams. Plus, truth be told, this is how we reward people when they graduate from school: we pay them to do things. In theory, we pay them more if they do things better than their peers.

If people respond to this sort of reward when they are adults, it makes sense that they might respond in youth.

In any event, one school program does not a trend make, but the state of education in the United States plus the fact that this program has the support of Harvard economics professor Ronald Fryer make it something that you as a smart manager or a smart entrepreneur should consider carefully.

After all, these are your future employees I'm writing about.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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