Cash For Grades:Improving Performance?

A growing number of schools have begun experimenting with providing cash payments to students to improve their academic performance. There is some preliminary evidence that, under narrow conditions, cash-for-grades programs may help certain stduents increase academic achievement. In this study, Dr. Bryan Warnick examines the ethical questions involved with providing conditional cash transfers to students. The aim is to go beyond the question of whether the programs “work” and move toward a more nuanced understanding of the moral and political issues at stake.There are two projects involved in this study. The first project seeks to uncover the hidden assumptions being made in the debate about cash incentives. He examines the discourse surrounding cash for grades programs, looking for tensions, gaps, and points of comparison with other commonly accepted educational practices. For example, are cash incentives different from other external incentives such as grades or pizza coupons? Is paying students directly for grades different from promising an eventual financial reward in the form of better employment? What are the ethical differences between schools paying for grades and parents paying for grades? The second project examines the practice of paying students as it relates to educational justice. Can paying underserved students contribute to justice and educational equality? Does justice, in fact, require that we pay students for their now exploited “educational labor”? Or does paying students undermine needed systemic reforms and send the wrong message about the nature of learning and democratic citizenship?

There are a few things that make his project unique. He attempts to avoid comparing the justice of cash incentive policies with an idealized school system and instead ask whether cash incentives improve the status quo. Second, he will work under a framework of “policy holism,” which attempts to evaluate policies as they connect to each other and to larger social facts. Third, rather than simply presenting global ethical assessment of cash-for-grades, the goal of his study will be to construct a list of conditions under which such programs might be ethnically acceptable. The list of conditions will include such factors as: Who is able to enter programs? Who provides the money? Who receives the money? What school subjects should be involved? What is done to counteract any detrimental messages that might be sent?





Bryan Warnick

Associate Professor, Ed Psychology & Philosophy


  • PhD Philosophy of Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • AM Philosophy of Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • BS Philosophy and Psychology, University of Utah


  • Philosophy of Education
  • Ethics of Educational Policy and Practice
  • Educational Technology
  • Human Exemplarity and Modeling
  • American Educational Thought