Down in Pueblo, there is controversy over Cesar Chavez charter school offering students $100 gift certificates to enroll. My gut reaction was very much in opposition, but on reflection it is harder for me to argue against it entirely. Here is the slippery slope:
No one argues against tuition aid or scholarships at colleges or private schools, so conceivably most of us are comfortable with schools subsidizing students in some way, particularly with low-income students (which Cesar Chavez overwhelmingly serves).
As public schools, charters don’t have tuition. But many charter schools now offer some sort of program by which students earn “credit” for good behavior or academic achievement, and those credits are often redeemable for goods – usually either school supplies (and this can include school sweatshirts, etc), but also tickets to museums or performances. I suspect that some District schools may have similar programs, either formally or informally (good kids get opportunities not offered to all kids). Not many people argue against incentive programs within a school.
At Manual High School this spring, students were paid to take the CSAPs, including a bonus for showing up on time. As Alan has pointed out, the idea of paying for grades has wider acceptance. If you are going to pay for grades, why not also pay for attendance? There is significant research about the impact on the drop-out rate in students as young as 11 years old. If you are not in school, chances are pretty good you are not learning, so why not incentivize attendance? After all, Denver’s ProComp rewards teachers — in cash — for merely showing up for work in “difficult to serve” (i.e. high-poverty) schools, so why should we not extend this same approach to students.
So what might one think about a school giving students “credits,” even gift certificates, for excellent attendance — particularly if these credits are redeemable for school-related goods (such as notebooks — or just books)?
If one is not repulsed by this, to paraphrase Shaw, we are now haggling over the price — arguing a difference of degrees, not of kind. If Cesar Chavez gave students with 95% attendance records a $10 gift certificate for specific goods at the end of each month (instead of $100 at the beginning of the year), would one still complain?
Yes, there is always the purity of belief that students should love learning for its own sake, but there are lots of parents out there who give rewards (money or something else) connected to schools – and even more who give punishments. Schools already reward good students, just less explicitly and rarely with straight cash.
Personally, I can’t quite say I support what Cesar Chavez is doing. But I think it is more complex than the knee-jerk reaction that it can’t be a reasonable approach in trying to solve the problem of low attendence.
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