For some students, A + B = $$$

Published August 13, 2006

WASHINGTON - Sure, learning is its own reward. But some kids respond best to cash.

Andrew Waller's grades soared when his parents started offering $5 for A's and $4 for B's. Now he pockets about $25 each report card, saving it for video games and summer camp.

"I think I would still be getting good grades, but this does help. I mean, it helps a lot," said Andrew, a 12-year-old from Mobile, Ala. "I think it's a great way to motivate me."

So you want your kids to get an A? Are you willing to pay?

As children return to school, many parents are deciding what prize - if any - is appropriate to offer when kids get good grades. The stakes can get pretty high.

Reagan Hawkins, a high school teacher in Nederland, Texas, has had students tell him they will get a new car for A's.

"It disappoints me, honestly," Hawkins said. "I try to instill a sense of intrinsic reward in the students. I'd rather see a student want to learn for the sake of learning."

Adults who promise money, gifts or privileges say their children study harder when incentives are on the table. The lesson they hope to teach is that rewards require work.

The trick is making sure that students develop a natural love of learning along the way. When the gift cards and iPods go away, students had better be able to motivate themselves.

Nationwide, parents reward A's in all kinds of ways.

Children earn trips to the bookstore, the bowling alley or the ice rink. They get to stay up later, take a day off from chores, or move a TV into their room. Some get bragging rights, like having their report card displayed front and center on the fridge.

In Snellville, Ga., Marlyn Tillman refused to give her two sons cash for A's. Instead she gave them stickers at young ages, then trips for ice cream.

By high school, she said, "We have no rewards. You're shaping your own future at that point, and that absolutely is its own reward. It's your job and you're expected to do it."

Still, incentives come into play at home. For every half hour her 13-year-old wants to spend playing video games, he must spend an hour reading - and prove it with a book report.

Reg Weaver used to gives his kids $1 for each A. It's a personal choice, nothing wrong with that, said Weaver, president of the National Education Association. His concern is that some children take gifts for granted.

"I see little kids going into stores with cell phones," he said. "You might say, 'I'll give you $5 for an A,' and the little kids will say, 'So?' They don't recognize how easy they have it. And as adults, we don't make it much better."