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Thursday, March 16, 2006

High School Pays Students Cash for Attendance

According to CNN.com, Chelsea High School in Chelsea, MA, is paying students for their classroom attendance.  Perfect attendance in a quarter leads to a $25 reward, with a $25 bonus for perfect attendance all year long.  All told, perfect attendance for the full four years nets a student $500.

The news report also featured other schools, which were raffling off cars, scholarships, and even cash prizes for students with perfect attendance. 

I questioned where public schools – already strapped for money – would come up with these extra funds.  Perhaps foundations or local businesses are throwing some money that way to encourage student attendance.  My own experiences as an educator provide at least anecdotal evidence that the students that come to class generally tend to do much better than the chronic absentees. 

But would the occasional grant really provide all this largesse?  I think there’s a missing piece of the incentive story that the CNN clip doesn’t discuss.  At the large Miami public high school I attended, I know that they received a set amount of funds from the state for each student that was there every day.  A large number of absentees reduced the funds received.  Now, back in the day, teachers and administrators relied on moral suasion and exhortation.  I suppose today we have incentives and attendance contracts.

I’m not sure what I think of it.  One the one hand, it would encourage high school students to come to class, and therefore to learn.  It might also reduce drop out rates.  And it might encourage students to think of school kind of like a job – important from a financial perspective.  On the other hand, it’s rather demeaning of the education provided, which is valuable in and of itself; and perhaps it stresses attendance over all else (who wants someone in school who has a contagious flu?) 

[Miriam A. Cherry]

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