Detroit schools offer Count Day bribes

Wednesday was Count Day for Michigan public schools. Ninety percent of state funding is linked to how many students show up on Oct. 2.

bikesHit hard by declining enrollment, Detroit Public Schools offered prizes to students who showed up, including iPad Minis, gift cards and bicycles.

Schools served a special menu: barbecue chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, seasoned green beans, cornbread muffins and peach cobbler

Bunche Academy made Count Day a no-uniform day and scheduled a dance for middle-school students and an ice cream social.

One lucky DPS student won an Xbox. Nearly one in four students received a prize of some kind.

A majority of school-age children in Detroit choose charter schools or district-run schools in the suburbs.

LA students win cars, iPads for attendance

I had perfect attendance in fourth grade at Ravinia Elementary School in 1961-62. The teacher gave me a plastic trophy — painted gold — that he’d won in a dance contest at the Hotel Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.

Los Angeles public schools gave new cars to two graduating seniors with perfect attendance, reports the Los Angeles Daily News. Five elementary students won iPads.

Of 357 seniors with perfect attendance, Vanessa Umana and Euri Tanaka each won the drawing for an $18,000 Chevrolet Sonic. Clear Channel Media donated the cars and many of the other prizes.

Over the last year, LAUSD has awarded monthly prizes to hundreds of kids who answered “here” every time their teacher took attendance. Rewards donated by local companies included bicycles, gift cards to Subway sandwich shops and guest passes to Knott’s Berry Farm and Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

Six campuses also will receive $3,000 each to spend on attendance programs. (Does a magnet for gifted students need an attendance program?)

Attendance improved during the year-long contest, said Debra Duardo, executive director of Student Health and Human Services. That means fewer kids miss lessons and the district collects more money from the state, an average of $32 per student per day.

Vanessa credits her work ethic to her mother, Minerva, a pharmacy technician, and father, David, a Navy mechanic who served three overseas deployments while she was growing up.

“That shaped me as a person and taught me how to have goals and be independent,” she said. “They always encouraged me to go to school so it would lead me to have a better life.”

Graduating with a GPA of 4.2, Vanessa has been accepted at UC San Diego. She plans to major in biology, with a long-term goal of becoming a doctor.

The grand prize for attending school is an education, not a Subway gift card or a Chevy.  Vanessa knows that. She didn’t need to be bribed to show up. What about kids with less education-minded parents?

I kept my attendance trophy on my dresser. It disappeared when my parents sold the house, when I was in college. I’ve still got the education.

Chicago will pay parents to pick up report cards

Chicago parents who pick up their child’s report card and attend parent-teacher conferences will get a $25 Walgreen’s gift card.  The rewards — or bribes, if you prefer — will be tried at 70 public schools with low parent involvement.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel came up with the idea. Walgreen’s is donating the cards as a promotion.

Better bribing

Giving students $20 or a trophy before a test — with the threat of taking it away if they do poorly — raises scores more than promising a future reward, concludes a study at low-performing Chicago schools by Steven Levitt (the Freakonomics guy) and others.  Derek Thompson writes in the Atlantic:

First, they found that money works, and the amount of money really matters. Students were reportedly willing to exert significantly more energy at $80-an-hour, but not at $40-an-hour.

. . . Second, they learned that the rewards were most powerful when they were framed as losses rather than gains  (i.e.: “Here is $20. If you fail, I’m taking it away.”) The technical term for this is loss aversion and it’s endemic. We’re more protective of money we have — or think we have — than we are aggressive about seeking money we don’t have. Third, they learned that “non-financial incentives,” like trophies, worked best with young people. Fourth, they learned that rewards provided with a delay — “we’ll get you that check in a month!” — did very little to improve performance.

Unfortunately, education’s rewards usually aren’t immediate. Telling students to study now so they’ll be ready for college or earn more in 10 years may not be effective.

$100 to go to school for 5 weeks

To combat truancy in Camden, New Jersey, 66 students will get $100 if they come to school for five weeks and attend after-school sessions three days a week. Students will get $100 on Sept. 30 “if they attend most anti-truancy sessions and school days.”  Most?

A $63,000 grant — which expires in five weeks — will fund the program. (Someone must be making a lot more than $100.) The program was organized in a hurry: Only 25 percent of students enrolled are chronically truant; the rest are borderline truant or attending school regularly but doing poorly.

(Ramona) Pearson-Hunter who has been in charge of the district’s truancy efforts for the last year said some of the truants cite boredom.

“We know we have to keep them active,” she said, adding that she suggests students ask teachers for extra-credit activities to remain engaged.

They’re bored because they don’t have enough assignments? Or is it possible they’re bored because they don’t understand the classwork?

After Sept. 30, the students will be asked to promise to attend regularly.

On the other coast: Told to pull up his sagging pants, a San Francisco student became belligerent, according to his teacher, who called the police. The student was not arrested.

Bribes-for-books scheme works

Bribing students can work — under some conditions — argues Amanda Ripley in Time. Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. raised private funds to run an experiment in Chicago, Dallas, Washington and New York. In each city, he ran a different reward model, with an unpaid control group.

The cheapest model was the biggest success: Dallas second graders earned $2 every time they read a book and showed their comprehension on a computerized quiz. The average student earned $14 for seven books per year. Reading scores soared “as if those kids had spent three extra months in school,” Ripley writes. Grades went up too. The effect was greater than far costlier ideas, such as lowering class size or enrolling children in preschool. The rewards stopped the next year, but students continued to do well.

Washington, D.C. middle schoolers were paid for “five different metrics, including attendance and good behavior.” Reading scores rose.

In Chicago, ninth graders got cash for good grades ($50 for an A, $35 for a B and $20 for a C), up to $2,000 a year. Students attended class more often and got better grades, but didn’t improve on end-of-the-year tests.

The New York experiment paid fourth graders and seventh graders to do well on tests. It had no effect.

Fryer thinks students responded more strongly when they understand how to earn rewards and felt they could control their earnings.

(D.C.) kids with a history of serious behavioral problems saw the biggest gains in test scores overall. Their reading scores shot up 0.4 standard deviations, which is roughly the equivalent of five additional months of schooling.

Kids may respond better to rewards for specific actions because there is less risk of failure. They can control their attendance; they cannot necessarily control their test scores.

The high-scoring KIPP charter schools reward students “for actions they can control — getting to school on time, participating in class and having a positive attitude,” Ripley writes. They use the “money” to pay for supplies at the school store.

Recognition, like punishment, works best if it happens quickly. So KIPP schools pay their kids every week. (Interestingly, the two places Fryer’s experiment worked best were the ones where kids got feedback fast — through biweekly paychecks in Washington and through passing computerized quizzes in Dallas.)

. . .  KIPP fifth-graders get a lot of prizes like pencils; high school kids can earn freedoms — like the privilege of listening to their iPods at lunch.

There’s some evidence that rewarding kids for doing the right thing erodes their motivation to do right without a reward. But if we can raise reading levels for $14 per kid . . . It’s tempting to bribe the little kids. They’re cheap.