Report Cards - Pay for Performance?

I love report card day. So far, report card days have been great days. I'm super blessed with kids that get good grades, and while I do have to give the teachers of all of the credit, I am rejuvenated in my motherhood on those days. I get to feel like I'm a really good mom (to make up for all those days I feel like the worst mom ever).

Third grade brought on a whole new level of report cards. We went to the letter system. My oldest daughter's first letter grade report card was all As and A+s. I beamed. Her father beamed. Most importantly, she beamed. Her teacher wrote a bunch of shiny, happy comments on how wonderful our daughter is (so, of course, I LOVE her teacher). We all beamed some more. We told her great job, keep it up, now you've done it and set the standard, we expect this every time, and by the way, we really do love you just the way you are as long as you're still getting straight As. Okay, so I was only thinking in my head the set the standard, expectations stuff, and of course I'll love her just the same if the grades ever drop. But I know my daughter and she was thinking it too. All is good in the world. We are the Cleavers.

Ironically, the next day I take my two-year-old to the barber shop to get his hair cut. The woman that cut his hair (let's call her Shirley), has owned the barber shop for 30 something years. So we're chatting as she's cutting my little wiggly guy's hair, and I'm not really considering what else she might have done during that 30 something years. To me, she was just this really nice woman with Buzz Light Year hanging over her head so that my child would be entertained long enough to get his hair cut.

She asked about my other kids and so I asked about hers. She has two boys. One is in college, and the other a senior in high school. The one is college was Valedictorian of his high school class. Her senior will also be Valedictorian of his class. Suddenly, Shirley was no longer the woman that owned the barber shop for 30 something years, but was now the proud mother of two Valedictorians. I asked her how she managed to pull that off. She said, "I'm just blessed."

Well, I get that blessed stuff and all, but I knew there was more to it. So I probed, as every mother seeking good advice should do. I asked her if they just got good grades because they wanted to, or if she rewarded them. I'd been tossing around the idea of paying for grades now that letter grades were in the picture, and I was curious what the best, most morally correct, and productive way to keep a straight A student motivated to continue being a straight A student. Or should grades be like those chores they must do simply because they are part of the family so they must contribute?

She smiled and said, "Sure I rewarded them. I mean, I get paid for my performance, why shouldn't they? Doesn't it teach them how life really works? Starting in third grade, I paid a quarter for every A and an extra dime for every A+. Every year, I increased it a quarter. By the time high school hit, my oldest still had straight As and he put a hand on my shoulder and said, 'Mom, you don't have to pay me anymore. I'm getting the grades for me now.'"

I wanted to cry and hug Shirley. There was my answer, as if light were shining down on Shirley and she was my fairy Godmother telling me that yes, it is okay to pay your child for good grades. It wasn't bribing them to do something they should want to do themselves, but rather it was encouraging them, providing an incentive, paying for performance. The same way life as an adult works. I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon with Shirley, but she blew the hair off of my toddler, smiled, and said, "First haircut is on me."

So now we pay a quarter for each A and an extra dime if it's an A+. We're paying for S+ too; to get the younger one motivated and accustomed to the PFP (pay for performance) system she will enter in the third grade.

But this has not only been motivating for my daughter, it has opened up conversations. She brought home her report card last night and we discussed her grades and how much she earned for her performance, and she asked, "So what if you get straight As all the way through high school?"

I told her it opened a lot of doors, for whatever college she might want to attend, for scholarships, to pursue a dream job or even just a dream. She asked me if I'd heard of Stanford. I said, "Yes, but you're going to need a whole lot of perfect report cards for that one." She went to her room and started counting her money.

I know I may not end up with four Valedictorians, but I do thank Shirley for introducing a way for my husband and I to install the idea of pay for performance at an early age. I believe it will have a lasting impact, even if I'm broke by the time they all graduate from paying my kids for their report cards. In fact, I hope I am. That would mean they did well.

What about you? Will you pay for performance?


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