Should Students Be Paid To Attend School?

By Danny Tyree

Could pocket change have persuaded Ferris Bueller to forego his day off?

That’s what I wondered when I read about a bold experiment by Dohn Community High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, this alternative school (serving mostly at-risk low-income and minority students) gives seniors a $25 Visa gift card each week they have perfect attendance, show up for class on time and stay out of trouble. Underclassmen receive a $10 gift card.

The incentive program is funded with $40,000 in private donations and public grants. If more funding can be found, perhaps they can offer financial rewards for additional behaviors. (“50 cents for not speculating on the mystery meat within earshot of the faculty table…75 cents for not critiquing Mr. McGillicuddy’s comb-over…”)

Critics (including my wife) are incredulous that a school would pay students to do something they’re already supposed to be doing (sort of the merging of teachable moments and billable hours), but the principal insists that the school has already tried everything else to correct the school’s dismaying 18 percent graduation rate.

Dohn has tried learning from the mistakes of a crosstown rival high school and its incentive program. The other school had to cancel $40,000 worth of gold stars and smiley faces because they were made in China. (“And PETA was all over us about the incident with the football team and the pony rides.”)

Analysis of the handful of similar programs across the nation hints that students can indeed be enticed to attend school, but they may not learn anything while putting in their obligatory appearance. Let us hope that Dohn doesn’t settle for putting warm bodies in the seats for the head count. (“WARM bodies?” commented one Chicago politician. “That’s being a little too strict.”)

If nothing else, the Dohn payouts will teach school bullies a valuable lesson about punctuality: hang around the streets all week, then show up right after Visa cards are handed out and shake down the nerds who would be attending school even without the payments.

Personally, I never missed a day of school or college after sixth grade, but I realize there are families and neighborhoods that do not engender such dedication. Skeptics have an outdated idea of the problems faced by Dohn.

“Ah, the kids are just tuckered out from walking six miles to and from school, uphill both ways,” harrumph the outsiders. “I think the $40,000 could be better spent hiring Ward and June Cleaver to give the students a stern talking to. Ward and June are WHAT?? No wonder the Beaver never answered my invitation for a play date.”)

I sincerely hope that Dohn can pull this off. Educator Horace Mann promoted the “learn by doing” method, and at least Dohn is DOING something instead of relying on hand-wringing and “tsk-tsking.” I just hope they will be honest in their evaluations of success or failure and either tweak or abandon the program as necessary.

We certainly don’t need the development of a sense of entitlement carrying over into the post-graduation world. (“Yes, sir, I managed to give the customer NO wedgie and only a cursory swirly. I think that should be worth at LEAST dental and vision insurance. What? Oh, man!”)

Danny Tyree
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