Paying Students for Passing AP Exams

There was a recent article in the NY Times about a program in NY City that pays students at some schools if they receive great AP scores.   The program is titled REACH (Rewarding Achievement) and involves schools with large minority populations.  The goal of the program is to increase college readiness for low income high school students.  REACH gives students financial rewards of $300-$1000 depending on their score on the AP exam and whether or not they attend free AP workshops.

REACH and similar programs that use financial incentives to get students to attempt AP courses and AP exams have caused quite a controversy.  There are many who think that learning should be internally motivated and not extrinsically rewarded.  I personally do not see a problem with the financial rewards.  Many parents have been using financial rewards to encourage their students for years.  Personally, I remember my parents giving me rewards for A’s on my report cards in junior high school.  These were much smaller than the rewards REACH are offering but the concept is the same.

The key here is that these students are not typically  receiving the support and encouragement at home to attempt these challenging courses.  These external rewards might just be the kick in the pants needed to get some students to take on the added challenge of the AP exams.  One thing that I  like about this program is that students must perform on the exam, and not just warm a seat in an AP class.  They can also increase their reward by attending tutor sessions designed to increase student achievement.  All these aspects seem to be well thought out.

The trick will be for the schools involved in REACH to keep their standards and expectations high while the number of students increases.  Perhaps, schools will learn that the best way to prepare these students for the AP courses will be to increase the standards in the classes prior to the AP course.  If this happens, all students will benefit, even those who do not go on to take on an AP class.

For those who have problems with these financial incentives, I ask why students strive so hard to get into Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Duke, etc.  I believe it is because students perceive that they will be able to get higher paying jobs upon graduation.  This sounds to me like a financial incentive, albeit delayed in nature.

Let’s hear your opinions by commenting below.

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