Growing up in a diverse, middle-class suburb, I used to marvel at parents I knew who paid their kids for grades. You know, $25 for an A, $10 for a B, and so on. My parents weren't the type to look over my homework every night or demand I hand over each graded assignment for examination. When I brought home mediocre grades in math and French, they simply encouraged me to keep working, and when I did well in English and social studies, they said they were proud. The message in my house was clear: Education is its own reward, and you're only hurting yourself if you perform to less than your full ability. No cash incentives were involved.

Looking back as an adult, however, I'm not so quick to judge. I've seen the frustration of parents whose kids suffer from ADHD or other learning disabilities that make studying an uphill climb, or whose kids simply don't love reading, writing, and arithmetic. Those parents understandably look for extra ways to motivate their children to learn and succeed. Of course, not all parents have equal amounts of time and money to devote to educational extras. And sadly, not every child grows up absorbing pro-education messages or seeing up close the results of academic success. So despite my gut reaction against some of the new programs in New York City, Baltimore, and Atlanta that pay students for high grades and test scores, I'm willing to give them a second look.