Back to School: Paying for Perfect Attendance Boston-area Chelsea High School will be testing a new method to promote school attendance: paying students for coming to class. Students will earn $25 for every school quarter of perfect attendance.
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Back to School: Paying for Perfect Attendance

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Back to School: Paying for Perfect Attendance

Back to School: Paying for Perfect Attendance

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are the headlines from some stories we're following here today at NPR News.

The Base Closure and Realignment Commission began voting today on the Pentagon's restructuring recommendations. In one surprise, the panel voted to save the big Navy submarine base in New London, Connecticut.

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More on the Base Closure and Realignment Commission decisions a little bit later in this program.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, well, we don't do gossip on this show, but have you heard about tomorrow's TALK OF THE NATION? Scuttlebutt is they're going to be talking about gossip. Turns out researchers believe it's actually quite useful. At least that's what we've heard. Gossip on the next TALK OF THE NATION.

We've been talking about teachers and their abilities to reach students. At Chelsea High School near Boston, the motivation to attend school this year will include money. The school will shell out $25 to students each quarter in which they have perfect attendance. Murray Siegel is a member of the Chelsea School Committee that came up this idea, and he joins us now from his home in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

And it's nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. MURRAY SIEGEL (Chelsea School Committee Member): Nice to be here.

CONAN: To others, this might seem like a last resort, giving money to kids to encourage them to show up to school.

Mr. SIEGEL: Well, we have to increase attendance at Chelsea High so that we can meet yearly certification criteria. Daily attendance at Chelsea High School must be at 92 percent to be in compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Presently, our attendance rate is hovering at 90 percent. Now one might say, hey, 90 percent is not bad. But if I'm in Chelsea attending high school at 90 percent rate, I'm missing three and a half weeks of school. And that's strictly not what I want to do.

CONAN: Do you know why it is that kids don't come to class? I mean, presumably, some of them are sick some of the time.

Mr. SIEGEL: Well, there's a whole host of reasons that--we face a lot of problems here in Chelsea. We're a very poor city. We're a city with a lot of language problems. Seventy percent of our youngsters at home speak a language other than English. So there are a lot of problems connected with it. Now I've taught school in Chelsea for 37 years. I long ago learned that good attendance and good achievement go hand in hand. You simply cannot have one without the other. And so as a member of the school committee, I have an obligation to try to get our youngsters into school and to make something of their lives. Unfortunately, too many of our kids at Chelsea High School do not realize that getting a good education is the key to a successful life. And until we get our kids to learn that fact, I think we're going to be in trouble.


Mr. SIEGEL: And as I just said, as a member of the school committee, I have an obligation to do everything within my power to get students to attend school on a regular basis.

CONAN: Aren't you worried, though, that you might encourage kids to come to school when they're sick and should stay home?

Mr. SIEGEL: No, I don't think so. I know the sentiment here in the city. I've lived here all my life. I've gone to school here; I've taught school. I don't think that will be a factor at all.

The other thing that you should know about this is that no one gets a penny unless they graduate from Chelsea High School. They must graduate to get the money that they've earned. And we're hoping that there'll be a spin-off on this, and since some of the youngsters must graduate to receive the attendance award, we're of the opinion that students will intensify their efforts to succeed academically. We're also hoping that the policy will have a favorable effect on our dropout rate.

CONAN: I wonder, have you tried other incentive programs there in the past?

Mr. SIEGEL: Oh, yes, we--at the elementary grades, we even had an attendance program in effect for a number of years. In fact, our attendance in grades one to four shot up dramatically. And right now it's at 96, 98 percent. So these incentive programs do work. We're not sure about this--and I think I should say one more thing. I'm not happy about paying students to attend public school. I'm not happy at all about it. It goes against my philosophy. But again, I have to do everything within my power to get kids to come to school. You can't learn if you're not in school. It's as simple as that.

CONAN: Murray Siegel, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. SIEGEL: Thank you.

CONAN: Good luck.

Morey Siegel is a member of the Chelsea School Committee that came up with the idea to pay kids for perfect attendance.

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