Report-Card Rewards

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

They are the stuff of legends and lunchroom gossip.

"I heard Johnny gets $20 for every A on his report card."

"Well, Suzy told me that her parents promised her a car if she got straight A's."

Those fortunate few whose parents offered high-stakes rewards for good grades seem like the luckiest kids in the whole world.

However, recent studies suggest that their parents aren't doing them any favors.

"Rewards can be harmful if parents are sending the message that all that is important is the grade," warned Eric Anderman, professor of educational policy and leadership at Ohio State University.

Anderman, along with his wife Lynley Hicks Anderman, associate professor of educational policy and leadership at OSU, authored the book "Classroom Motivation."

"Kids can become dependent upon the reward and won't put in the work once the reward is not given anymore," he said.

Lynley Anderman added, "If you just reward for the grade, you may motivate your child in the short term, but they could lose interest in the long term."

The Andermans found that high-stakes rewards can actually be harmful.

"The biggest predictor of cheating is the perception that there is some sort of big reward in store," said Eric Anderman. "The reward creates stress for the student and encourages cheating."

So how should parents motivate their kids to get good grades? The Andermans advise parents to stay on top of what their kids are learning and help them see how it relates to real life.

Additionally, parents should focus on effort and not just ability - kids should be praised for taking on a challenge and not only for earning a certain grade. For students who are struggling in school, a map of their progress can be very helpful.

"It can be very discouraging to work hard and not see results in grades," said Lynley Anderman. "For these students to see graphically that they are progressing is encouraging."

But don't jump to the conclusion that the Andermans are no fun.

"There's nothing wrong with celebrating good grades," said Lynley Anderman. "You just need to be thoughtful about where you place the emphasis."

She suggests that when kids bring home their report card, parents should ask questions about what they learned, how they are being challenged, how much effort they put into the work and what they liked about the subject.

Central Ohio families vary in how they handle the issue of report-card rewards. Vickie Fomich of Lewis Center said she and her husband Jason do not offer rewards for good grades to their three children.

"It is the expectation that our children will work hard in school simply because they are supposed to," said Fomich. "It's their job as a student."

Fomich attributes the family's decision to principle and the fact that kids Keanan and Allyson, both 14, and Collin, 7, are "intrinsically self-motivated."

However, she isn't sure whether the source of the self motivation is her expectation or her kids' natural tendencies. It also helps that her kids' peers don't seem to be bragging about receiving rewards - "My children have never mentioned their friends receiving rewards," said Fomich.

The Fomichs anticipate that their policy will pay off for their children in the future.

"I hope that my children learn to be proud of the outcome of their hard work, regardless of the reward or recognition," said Fomich.

Alexis Sage of Pataskala does give her daughter Ellie, 7, rewards for good report cards - and her method coincides perfectly with the Andermans' advice. She sees it as another way of saying great job on all of the good work Ellie has done.

"That being stated, it is extra and always comes after a conversation about the grades and classes," said Sage.

Mom and daughter discuss areas in which Ellie excelled and areas that need a little more work. They then set goals for the next term.

"The reward is usually something small like a special dessert or sweet from a bakery or a small toy," said Sage. Ellie sees the reward as a celebration.

"I don't think (the reward) plays a major role in her mind throughout the school term," said Sage. "Ellie does well on her school work and tests because she wants to learn."

Ellie has mentioned that a number of her peers receive rewards for their grades from their parents and even their grandparents.

"I hope that rewarding Ellie helps her to feel pleased in an additional way with all the hard work and effort she's made during that period at school," said Sage.

Want a free way to honor good report cards? Check out what these companies offer their customers!

•Krispy Kreme: One doughnut for every A on a report card; maximum six doughnuts per report card

•Chuck E. Cheese's: Free tokens for A and B grades. Valid only with a food purchase. Up to 15 tokens maximum per child.

•Blockbuster: Free movie rental for B+ or higher grade-point average. One rental per grade card. Choices are limited to family-friendly movies.

•Cheryl's Cookies: A free cookie for each A (limit of three) your child gets, plus a coupon for you.