A charter school in Cincinnati is making waves for its new solution to its truancy problem – it’s paying students to show up.
In the new program, Dohn Community High School seniors who have perfect attendance, show up on time, participate in class and don’t get into trouble get a $25 Visa gift card each week. Underclassmen get $10 for each perfect week, and each time a student earns a card, the school also deposits $5 in an account that pays out at graduation.
According to a local CBS News story, Dohn's principal Ramone Davenport is offering the money as a “last ditch” effort, since no other incentive has worked to keep students off the street and in the classrooms – from free pizza to lax dress-code days. So where did the money come from? An anonymous donor offered $10,000, and the Easter Seals Work Resource Center offered to match the program with federal Workforce Investment Act dollars. "This is our opportunity to say ‘Stick to it, you've worked so hard, let's just do this last leg of the race,’” Davenport says. If the rewards system is successful, a representative from Easter Seals says it already has a grant to extend the program through next year.
But is doling out cash really the way to keep kids in class? According to Davenport, the numbers were so bad at Dohn, there were few alternate choices. A Cincinnati Enquirer story notes that only 14 percent of students graduated from the high school last year.
It’s not the first time a school has resorted to what some see as bribery. In 2004, a high school in Lowell, Mass. started rewarding those students that received acceptance to college or the military with a laptop. Last year, a Novato, Calif. high school held a raffle for iPhones and iPads for kids who raised their standardized test scores. Harlem’s Promise Academy Charter Schools pay students up to $120 a month for showing up, and school founder Geoffrey Canada justified his support of incentivized attendance to Anderson Cooper: “People say, ‘Well Geoff, look, don’t you want kids to do it for the intrinsic value?’ Sure, I’d love them to do it for the intrinsic value. And until then, I’d love them to do it for money. I just want them to do it.”
Peter A. Spevak, director of the Center for Applied Motivation, a private consulting firm near Washington, D.C., told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the idea is “short sighted” and may foster a sense of entitlement. “The premise is you get paid for things you’re supposed to do anyway,” he said. “In society you should do things because it’s fulfilling to do and the right thing to do. It undermines internal motivation which ultimately has to drive citizens in a good society.”Do you agree with Dohn’s “last ditch effort,” or should kids have to learn responsibility the hard way?