Is Los Angeles public school system setting the bar too low by rewarding attendance and not academic performance?

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is giving away cars, iPads, and bicycles to students. Not for excellent academic performance, innovative ideas and projects, or serving others in their community. No, just for showing up.

This year two graduating seniors, who maintained perfect attendance from October 2012 to April 2013, each drove away with a Chevrolet Sonic car valued at $18,000. If my math is correct that’s $75 each day just for clocking in at homeroom.

The idea behind the “I’m In” School Attendance Challenge was pretty simple: keep kids from skipping school so they can learn. That’s very admirable if only we could believe it.

Here’s what the superintendent had to say:

"We are so proud of our students and schools who have collectively said 'I'm In' by striving to achieve perfect attendance and getting us closer to 100% graduation," said Mónica García, LAUSD Board President. "Their work has again increased academic achievement and graduation rates for LAUSD. Thank you to all of the adults for your work and a job well done."

But as Ben Shapiro of Briebart News explains when kids skip school LA administrators lose money.

Because the LAUSD system is paid by the state of California only for attendance. Every student is worth $32 per day from the state to the LAUSD system. That means that when students skip school, the unionized teachers and administrators pay the price. This year alone, LAUSD missed out on $156 million in funding thanks to students cutting class, including $14 million for kindergarteners who didn’t show up.

So contrary to what administrators claim the real is issue dollars not grades.

Whatever happened to showing up to school because you valued your education? The long-term benefits of higher earnings potential, personal enrichment and development of basic knowledge and skills are not enough to motivate students? Instead administrators feed the right-now mentality with toys, electronics and vehicles.

What’s interesting is that the school system partnered with local business to provide 3,000 monthly prizes. Investment in public schools by the private sector is important and I support funding prizes for science fairs, spelling bees, and academic competitions as they encourage students and plant the seeds for future careers and ambitions.

But giving student gifts just because they show up only guarantees a body in a seat, it doesn’t guarantee that her mind is present and actively engaged. And by the way, I wonder if school administrators took attendance at the end of the day as well as at the start.

The superintendent referred to increased academic achievement, but gave no evidence. I would like to see how academic performance tracked with attendance. Did the students with the best attendance also have good grades (both before and after the program)? I am inclined to believe that the students maintained good attendance were probably students on solid academic footing to begin with. They are likely the high and moderate achievers. Conversely, did those students who were most improved in attendance also demonstrate improvement in grades or on standardized exams? To me the win with a program like this is if students on the drop-out track moved to the graduation track.

Perfect attendance is commendable but the real world rewards performance. Let's hope these students can read and reason through the instructions on the new toys they’ve just won.