Paying kids to come to class: One school's 'last-ditch' plan
Dohn Community High School, a charter school in Cincinnati, Ohio, is throwing money at its sizable truancy problem. Starting this week, seniors who have perfect attendance, show up on time, participate in class, and stay out of trouble will be rewarded each week with a $25 Visa gift card; underclassmen will get $10 for each perfect week, and every time a student earns a card, they'll also get $5 deposited in an account payable upon graduation. Here, a look at Dohn's controversial, "last-ditch" effort to keep kids in school:
Why is Dohn paying kids to attend class?
The high school serves students at high risk of dropping out — with 170 mostly low-income, minority students, Dohn has an attendance rate of 84 percent, and only 14 percent of students graduated last year. "People will say you're rewarding kids for something they should already be doing anyway," Dohn Principal Ramone Davenport tells The Cincinnati Enquirer. "But they're not doing it. We've tried everything else." Earlier incentives included pizza and uniform-free days, but frequently absent students kept requesting cash, Davenport tells CBS Local 12 News. "I thought about it and I said lets go out to find the resources to do that."
Who's paying for this?
Private donations and federal Workforce Investment Act dollars managed by Easter Seals are financing the $40,000-a-year program. If the rewards system is successful, Easter Seals says it already has a grant to extend the program through next year.
Has this been tried before?
Yes. Individual schools and even whole school districts have tried similar rewards-based programs for years. The incentives vary. Some Albuquerque and Fort Worth students get a shot at a new car; kids at a Lowell, Mass., high schools earn a $1,200 laptop for good attendance, or for getting into college or the military; and various schools around the country offer cash for attendance or good grades. Britain has paid some lower-income students monthly stipends for attendance and performance for more than a decade.
Does it work?
Sometimes. Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr., who's conducted incentives programs at several large, urban school districts since 2007, says the programs tend to be successful if they reward behaviors like attendance, but not good grades. In a 2005 look at several programs, ABC's Good Morning America found that some programs — like the Lowell laptop giveaway — did really well, while others had more modest results.
So... is paying students to attend school a good idea?
If the programs are well-designed, yes, says Hedy Chang at the Attendance Works initiative. "Research and common sense tell us that school attendance is critically important to student achievement," and paying students "just to show up" can be part of the solution. Are you kidding? says Peter Spevak at the Center for Applied Motivation. Rewarding students for something they're "supposed to do anyway" actually "undermines internal motivation," which is bad for the student and bad for society. Look, I'd love kids to attend class "for the intrinsic value," says Harlem Children's Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, whose Promise Academy high schools pay students up to $120 a month for showing up and doing well. "And until then, I'd love them to do it for money. I just want them to do it."