PBIS student rewards: pros and cons

| Published | LAST UPDATED .

Let us begin with a simple thesis. The penetration of loyalty programs into various spheres of social interaction has a certain impact on the very manner of this interaction. This assertion is hardly debatable. More questionable is the effect produced by the introduction of incentive programs. Is it worth relying on systemic rewards in the long term when it comes to, for example, the educational environment? Let's take the PBIS rewards program, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, as an example.


PBIS rewards program – pros and cons

PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

We collected general data about the loyalty program and published it on our website: PBIS Rewards program

PBIS has been present in American schools long enough to become a familiar environment for students and teachers alike. According to feedback from educators, PBIS does an excellent job of creating a positive school environment. The system is fully automated and successfully reduces the number of problematic moments of interaction in the school environment. Fewer referrals to administration and suspensions, fewer unresolved issues and misunderstandings – all of this of course has a positive effect on the school culture as a whole.

But from the perspective of many researchers of this system, the ambiguity arises at the level of the very core of PBIS - namely, student engagement.  Educational engagement, which by PBIS's design should only be encouraged by rewards, in fact turns out to be a derivative effect of a desire for rewards. Experts say this kind of methodology could create an entire generation of students focused on irrelevant externalities. This dangerous substitution of educational goals can happen gradually, which is most likely what happened with PBIS. Over the years the positive behavior methodology has been present in schools, the system has begun to work for itself. Is this the case?

Support everyone and make all students successful?

According to an official statement on PBIS.org, PBIS is “a way to support everyone – especially students with disabilities – to create schools where all students are successful.”

A critical look at such a mission makes one wonder about the word “all.” The word is troubling in its vagueness. After all, a version of systemic totalitarianism can fit in here all too easily, where the individuality not recognized by the system is either broken in favor of a common standard or excluded from society's interconnections. And the exclusion would be incommensurably more profound, since it would push the informal student beyond the boundaries of order.

The problem with the PBIS system is its excessive positivity. The imposition of rewards for completing certain initiatives turns students into dependent and subservient functionaries of the program itself.

“PBIS Students Rewards” request statistics

To understand the scope of the issue and to see the depth of the impact of PBIS rewards on school children, we need to look at the picture of PBIS-related searches. A quick look shows that adults are much less interested in PBIS rewards than children. Take a look at a comparison of keywords from a Google search for November-December 2022:

  • pbis rewards student – 5,600 queries per month
  • pbis teacher – 110 queries per month (with the completely similar keyword query pbis rewards teacher missing altogether)

And one more pair of queries for comparison:

The picture as a whole is quite clear. Children, for the first time feeling like adults (each student has its own identification number, which is equivalent to a debit account) begin to act in the direction of developing a new opportunity. It is hardly necessary to talk about the commercialization of school achievements, but it is worth thinking about the freedom of the student's choice of behavior model.

Behaviorism vs. grassroots activity

The roots of PBIS can be traced back to the concept of behaviorism, which was at the height of its popularity 50 years ago. Originally behaviorism was a school of sociological assessment developed by B.F. Skinner in the 1900s. According to behaviorists, people have no intrinsic motivation or self-determination. To change other people's behavior, you simply encourage what you like and punish what you don't like. This primitive logical link is undoubtedly effective in a certain structure of ideology-vertically oriented institutions of power are easiest to get their functionaries to do what they want with the carrot and stick method.

However, times have changed. The development and spread of decentralized systems led to the emergence of new types of social relations, which do not need a third party to regulate the relationship.

As for the loyalty programs, they have changed and evolved towards decentralization in the broadest sense of the word. Moreover, a new round of decentralized systems development, which happened on the wave of cryptocurrency and the idea of metaworld has set a new level of development of such integrated into social interactions system as loyalty programs and reward schemes.

Simplifying the question of loyalty programs in the new context of decentralized interaction, we can say that loyalty is now relevant to a sustainable social interaction (social group) rather than an institution. Large companies encourage the growth and development of stable social groups (customers), whose behavior is not regulated, not determined from the outside. The determinant is the attractor of interest, which is exactly what this or that company is trying to create within its loyalty company. So there are leading brands that set the Lifestyle. Or major retailers setting the pace of consumption of everyday products. But what about education? Can we allow students to become a horizontal self-organizing system? This would require rethinking the entire education system with its vertical directives.

Children are still the cluster of our most deprived society. Deprivation is hidden beneath the thickness of “positive” attitudes toward children, imposing on them compulsory standards of abstract happiness and joy.

Children cannot object. The means available to them to assert their rights are negligible, for the simple reason that children do not speak the language of adults and do not belong to social strata. So systems like PBIS do perhaps the most harm by regulating and regulating what remains of the free spaces of human-human interaction.

The Way Out: How to Improve PBIS Rewards Systems for Students

It is easy to criticize. The PBIS system is complex and multifunctional enough not to be reduced solely to harmful effects. The way out is to make adjustments to the system itself, in keeping with the changes that are taking place in today's digital, horizontal and decentralized society.

As the inquiry statistics show, PBIS rewards for students are too popular a topic of interest among young people to be neglected.

Georgetta F. Palsen

Georgetta F. Palsen

About the author

Georgetta F. Palsen spearheads the Loyalty Programs Project, aiming to unravel the global impact of loyalty programs. Leading a dedicated team, she adopts an interdisciplinary approach to explore these programs' influence on consumer behavior and capitalism, offering critical insights for academics and businesses navigating the complexities of today's societal dynamics. More info