From the full story:
Big incentive for school attendance: Cash
by Elisa Crouch
Stacey Wright had more than a dozen choices when it came to enrolling three of her children in an elementary school, from charters to magnets to traditional public schools in every corner of the city.
She chose Jefferson Elementary School, the brick St. Louis public school across the street. And for that, she may get $900.
For the first time, a local organization is offering parents a cash incentive to enroll their children at Jefferson. The money is limited to students who didn't attend the school last year. To get it, the kids must finish this semester with near-perfect attendance and receive no out-of-school suspensions; the parent must attend three PTO meetings. The program is being offered to families in three mixed-income housing complexes surrounding the school, where most of the students live.
Paying families for their children's behavior and attendance is part of an ongoing debate in a half dozen cities. Kids themselves also have been paid for everything from grades on tests to the number of books they read. A Harvard University study in July showed that such incentives improve classroom behavior — but they don't necessarily raise test scores. The study looked at incentive programs offered to 38,000 students at 261 low-performing urban schools in four cities.
Proponents say the cash rewards are no different from offering college scholarships to top achievers at a high school, and that low-income families need the extra help. Critics counter that the cash prizes fail to address problems that lead to truancy and poor test scores, such as bad teaching or a dull curriculum.
"It's almost like bribing (the students) instead of correcting the core problems," said Garrett Duncan, an associate professor of education at Washington University.
Rewards in schools are nothing new. Suburban districts for years have offered pizza coupons, tickets to amusement parks and baseball games for those who make the honor roll or read a certain number of books over the summer.
In St. Louis Public Schools, the district has rewarded kids who attend the first day of school by entering them in drawings for tickets to sporting events. Until recently, Maritz Inc., the motivational and corporate travel company in Fenton, gave students at school the first week chances to win a big screen television, stereo equipment, T-shirts and rulers.
The $300 incentive at Jefferson shouldn't be troubling, said William Tate, professor of education at Washington University.
"What they're really saying to these kids is your presence on a regular basis is important," he said. "It's so important we're going to reward you for doing it."
Wright said she's going to do all she can to ensure that she and her three children at Jefferson do their part in earning the $900. Getting to the PTO meetings should be no problem, she said. The money would go a long way to help her family at Christmas, when finances are especially tight.