Friday, February 04, 2005

#144 - "Toys" for Attendance

Attendance at Los Angeles Unified schools has apparently gotten so bad, they're resorting to bribery to get kids to show up.

Heard this morning on local CBS affilliate KNX newsradio, the Los Angeles Unified School District has decided to award a Toyota to a "deserving student," defined as one who either shows markedly improved or outstanding attendance this year. Toyota, smelling a public relations coup, I'm sure, donated the vehicle to this worthy cause.

Time will tell what, if any, effect this raffle will have on the kids.

There's a commercial I dearly love. This is saying something because I detest most of them, but this one never fails to get a chuckle out of me. A dad is seen trying various ways to wake up his sleepy son in an attempt to get him out there fighting for those big scholarships. You may have seen this one. Dad is shown vacuuming the kid's room at some unearthly hour of the morning, blasting an air horn, and letting a squirrel loose. He then sends the kid off to school with the squirrel clinging leech-like to the kid's back. I laugh because I can easily envision my own parents trying stunts like that when I was a kid.

It also points out - in a more or less extreme way - that motivation of kids properly begins at home. Educators can do their best to keep education exciting and fresh for their students, but it begins (and should be perpetuated) at home.

The Toyota is, of course, a very large carrot dangling off of a very short stick. Unless they've decided to take every school's valedictorians and honor students out of the running, it's very possible that the car will be awarded to someone who is already (and probably always has been) attending school at or very near 100%. What motivation would that be to someone who has an honest desire to go to school but just can't get excited about facing another dreary day in the classroom? Let's assume such a kid decides that he or she would really like a new set of wheels. They put all that effort into improving their attendance, only to have the car awarded to someone who represents the school on the academic decathlon team. Bang goes another balloon in that kid's life.

I suspect, Mr. Romer, that most of your truant students are far too jaded to let a little thing like a new Toyota put their butts in a classroom chair any time soon. In fact, those who have found imaginative outlets for their energies are probably already driving something far racier than a stock Toy off the lot.

Mr. Romer either doesn't get it or can't do anything about it. Education needs to be its own reward. If the kids aren't seeing it that way, you need to do something about the perception. Lotteries that carry with them crushing disappointment for a large number of students aren't the way to go. Find ways to help parents get their kids out of the gang mentality. Make education more interesting. Cash in that Toyota and pay for another teacher. Whatever it takes, make it a practical approach with an exciting end result. For all students, not just the one that won the door prize.

Romer's strengths need to be in quality education, not bad marketing.

UPDATE: Welcome to Joanne Jacobs readers. Joanne teases me about bullying the Woodyettes. Hopefully I set her straight. ;-)

No comments: