« Science Learning: A Thrilling Detective Story | Main | Online Ed. Grows, But Is that a Good Thing? »

Attendance Incentives


A story in The Houston Chronicle yesterday once again brought up the ever-controversial topic of student incentives. This time, though, the article focused on giving away prizes for perfect attendance, rather than high test scores. According to the article, under No Child Left Behind, the amount of federal funding each school receives is partly contingent on attendance rates, so even schools with attendance rates in the 96th percentile feel pressured to motivate kids to come to school more often, since even one percentage point could mean thousands more dollars in federal funding.

However, not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

School leaders see these perks, ideally, as part of a portfolio of programs to inspire better attendance. But critics of academic incentives brand them as foolish. And reactions by school nurses, concerned about sick children spreading their illnesses to classmates, are lukewarm at best.

Whether or not students--who are promised prizes such as bicycles, gift certificates, and cash--are actually responding to the incentives is still up in the air. Some districts have noticed a change, while others haven't seen any improvement. The article also mentions a similar program in Massachusetts, which rewarded kids for good grades or perfect attendance, that was eliminated this school year after the district decided it wasn't making enough of a difference.

So what does all that mean? As usual, it's unclear. It seems like the gains that schools are seeing in attendance rates because of incentive programs are fairly small, if they see gains at all. As the article mentions, a lot of the factors that lead to a child missing school can't be solved by offering them a bike. That doesn't make a sick kid well or help a parent who has to work an early shift be home in the mornings to get the kids moving.



I see two problems with rewarding perfect attendance (and high test scores). The first is that it is not typically responsive to any problem the school is having. If the goal is to improve attendance, rewarding the kids who are already coming everyday won't provoke change--unless it is with a few kids on the fence of whatever definition of perfect is tied to the reward. It may boost numbers, but not in any siqnificant way or with any qualitative improvement in education. It allows the school to say that they have a "program" without addressing any of the real problems of kids who are missing great gobs of school due to out of school or within school difficulties. It's like putting a sling on the healthy arm and ignoring the break in the other.

There is the additional issue of whether a transactional or transformation approach is called for in changing behavior. The trap that I see schools (and others) falling into in avoiding punitive solutions (which in schools frequently center around suspension--a ridiculous response to truancy) is to just shift to a reward system, which is behaviorally just the other side of the coin. The belief is still that people do things to avoid discomfort or to achieve comfort. Behavior is usually more complicated--and it takes a considerable reward to outweight the discomfort of confronting on a daily basis the accumulated demons associated with a decade or so of school failure and social ostracism--which is where many kids are by the time they give up and drop out.

The things that really work call educators out of their comfort zones to build authentic links between school, home and community in order to identify common values (a primary motivator according to transformational models), intervene early in problems and surround students with a supportive environment in which to live, grow and attend school.

As the parent of two teenagers with chronic migraines (one of whom has now graduated from Texas schools), and as a past teacher, I have a couple of thoughts on this topic. First of all, it's no secret that to learn, students must be present in class. However, how much does a student who can barely open her eyes due to migraine pain actually gain from being in class? From experience, I can say very little. So, my daughter, soon to graduate, misses too much school and because we live in Texas, she's forced to make up the hours after school and on Saturday.

Now, you might wonder what she does to "make up" these hours. Well, unbelievably, the answer is nothing. Nothing. She and all the other students at our high school(and at hundreds of high schools across the state) go to an assigned classroom where they can do anything they want as long as they are quiet, seated, and do not fall asleep. A teacher monitors such ill behavior, and once the amount of hours assigned for that day are complete, the student is given credit for "making up" those hours. My daughter texts her friends, reads magazines, and day dreams. How can anyone claim this is making up anything? But, the almighty dollar is made up for the district and our school gets its 90.00 that it gets everyday my daughter attends.

As a former teacher, I find it appalling that kids spend four hours at a time sitting in class doing absolutely nothing and get credit for making up their missed classes. If they truly need to make up time, then let it be productive. Goodness knows, with our TAKS scores, most of them could use it!

Karen Smith

As a teacher, I find that many parents aren't supportive of their children and don't believe that attendance is that important. It may help if we offer the incentives to parents.

Hi. I'm just beginning my first Action Research Project for my degreee in Education.Project problem: 1)Erratic attendane of Sports Coaching students(17-22yrs) in my Nutrition class.2)Lack of interest in link between nutrition and physical health.
I intend to review my teaching strategies and explore students reasons for this, Any advice/articles would be greatly appreciated. I'm Irish,living in Dublin, Ireland

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Olivcia Fitzgerald: Hi. I'm just beginning my first Action Research Project for read more
  • Glenda Fischer: As a teacher, I find that many parents aren't supportive read more
  • Karen Smith: Katie: As the parent of two teenagers with chronic migraines read more
  • Margo/Mom: Katie: I see two problems with rewarding perfect attendance (and read more




Technorati search

» Blogs that link here