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Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Published: 2/13/2006

Go to school, get a car

One of the last vestiges of ethics in our society is disappearing as schools start handing students incentives just to show up for class. The tradition of going to school in order to become a better person, a better citizen, and a better worker apparently isn't good enough anymore. School districts have been cornered into offering cash, cars, and other rewards to students for doing what they should be doing anyway, and it's a disgrace.

In the real world nobody is rewarded for just showing up. But as school districts are burdened with the demands imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act, they are offering students costly rewards to do what their parents ought to be making them do.

From the schools' perspective, it is all about money. The NCLB law considers average student attendance when evaluating schools, and if it's low, schools lose out on funds. For every 1 percent increase in average attendance in Chicago public schools, the district gets another $18 million in state aid. No wonder Chicago administrators are offering students $500 for groceries or $1,000 on rent or mortgage payments if they attend classes every single day for the first three months of the school year. That's absurd.

Some of the rewards are so extreme that it's embarrassing.

In Hartford, Conn., a 9-year-old with perfect attendance and who won a raffle got to choose between a new car or $10,000. His folks took the money. Fort Worth, Texas, students with average attendance get a shot at cars, computers, shopping trips, and sports tickets.

There are other less costly incentives that schools offer: a DVD player, an iPod. The idea might not be so bad if the incentives promoted education. Laptop computers and scholarships for post-secondary education are far better ideas.

This trend is certainly a long way from the perfect attendance certificates handed out at awards and graduation ceremonies in the past. But the financial tyranny of NCLB means that districts have to come up with a workable solution to get kids to come to school. The approach, though, could make some students expect valuable incentives for doing what they are expected to do anyway all their lives.

Is the concept parallel to the workplace? Not quite. In the real world, a paycheck comes only after the work is done. America's public school students need to understand that early on.



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