Is it all right to reward good grades with cash?
Of the more than 47,000 people who responded to that question recently on FamilyEducation.com, almost three out of five said money is a good incentive.
Not surprisingly, students tend to agree. A 2001 survey by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan opinion research group, found that 62 percent of students in grades 6 through 12 said getting paid for better grades would motivate them "a lot."
Still, giving a child money for good grades is controversial.
Some experts say that cash-for-grades arrangements are nothing more than bribes and that the satisfaction of a job well done should be its own reward.
Others maintain that adults don't work for free, so why should children?
And still others say paying $5 or more for each A on a report card is crazy but see no problem with rewarding kids with new toys, CDs or other treats.
JoAnn Browne, a mother of four and assistant principal at Maize South Middle School in Wichita, thought she had heard everything several years ago when she was an elementary school principal. But then she learned of one father's elaborate report-card reward scale.
"He paid $20 per A -- and if they made straight A's, they went to Worlds of Fun," Browne said, referring to an amusement park. "My mouth fell open."
The father meant well with the incentive, she said, but likely didn't realize the added pressure and mixed message it sent to his third-grade daughter.
"Imagine the rest of the family going to Worlds of Fun, and you have to stay home with grandma because you got a B," Browne said.
"First there's the stress. Then, if you get one bad grade on a test, you'd be tempted to say, 'Well, that's it. I might as well give up now.' I just don't think it's a good message to send."
Some parents, though, say that if you tell children school is their job, it's only fair to pay them for a job well done.
"It's like a perk, a bonus," says Bill Stawski, author of "Kids, Parents & Money: Teaching Personal Finance From Piggy Bank to Prom." "As a parent of five boys, I have no problem with a monetary 'attaboy' for a job well done."
Even some local businesses get in on the act, offering free ice cream, game tokens or other treats for children who bring in outstanding grade cards.
Stawski, who pays $5 per A on report cards, thinks that society is based on compensation for effort. "I want my boys' attention on the job at hand -- quality schoolwork -- without distraction," he said.
Others say that giving kids money for good grades may produce short-term results -- happy kids with glowing school transcripts -- but that few parents consider the underlying message or long-term consequences.
"If you start giving too many rewards, there's a cost to that," said Chuck Smith, a family life specialist for the Kansas State University Research and Extension Service. "When does it stop?"
Smith, a father of two, says he wasn't paid for good grades growing up and never rewarded his kids with cash. "It's just not something that ever occurred to them -- or to me," he said.
As with many parents who oppose paying for grades, Smith said he believes children should be shown early on that the joy of learning and the satisfaction of working hard toward a goal are more important than grades.
"It's about the desire to learn, to scratch a curiosity, to understand how numbers work or how words are put together to write something beautiful," Smith said.
Good grades shouldn't go unnoticed, he added. They should be rewarded and celebrated -- but with sincere praise from parents, not money.
Most people would think it ridiculous to give a toddler a dollar for building a block tower or a preschooler cash for writing his name. Giving older kids money for a good grade is no different, Smith said.
"You pull them aside and tell them you're proud of them. You give them a hug or a high-five. Every child wants their parents to be proud -- that's a huge motivator," he said.
"That's a currency you start using when your child is very young, and you don't need anything more than that."
Browne, the Maize administrator, isn't opposed to monetary perks. Growing up, she and her brothers got $1 for every A at report card time. "That meant $5 or $6, which was a nice treat," she said.
But she doesn't reward her children for their grades with cash.
"We just make a big deal out of it at home," she said. "We set goals, and if they make those goals we get excited about that."