Come On, Now – Schools Giving “Stamps” For Each Parent Involvement Activity?

From a newspaper article about a New Jersey school:

Allen Frear Elementary School in Camden is winning acclaim for finding a new way of getting parents involved that might be familiar to anyone who’s ever kept a customer appreciation card in their purse or wallet.

This year the school has been handing out “Frear Frequent Flyer Cards” to parents, giving them stamps every time a parent gets involved at the school.

Parents can earn a stamp for everything from volunteering as an assistant to eating lunch with their kid to coming to parent-teacher conferences.

“We’ve got a whole laundry list of things that can get you a stamp,” said Principal Tara Faircloth. “If you’re coming to school for an event or if you’re just getting in touch with a teacher to make sure your student is on track, we want parents to know they’re appreciated.”

….[Lt. Gov.] Denn said his office wants to see the Frequent Flyer program and its fellow award-winners implemented in schools throughout the state.

As I wrote in a cover story I did for ASCD Educational Leadership:

Unfortunately, some of the most well-publicized family involvement efforts right now—tempting as they might be—are likely to have negative consequences.

For example, some school districts in Texas and Delaware are planning to pay parents to participate in more school events, despite the fact that New York City ended a similar program because it did not achieve the desired results (Bosman, 2010). In a similar initiative, Detroit schools are working with businesses to offer store discounts to parents who visit school parent centers. As Daniel Pink (2009) has shown in his book Drive, financial incentives may work in the short term to motivate people to do mechanical tasks (such as showing up for a meeting), but they will do little to stimulate more cognitively challenging work (such as making it a priority to ask children about their school day or assist them with their homework). In fact, paying parents for participation can actually reduce motivation for doing these more challenging tasks. And when the incentives are gone, everyone is worse off than before.

You might also be interested in a related post I wrote for The Washington Post, Why paying parents to attend school events is wrong.

I’m adding this info to The Worst Parent Engagement Ideas.

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