Berkeley High to offer rewards to boost attendance


A focus on attendance at Berkeley High has paid off, but there’s more work to do and a new scheme hopes to reward students for staying in class

In an effort to build on a concerted campaign to keep students in class, Berkeley High is introducing an incentive scheme based on rewards that the school hopes will be donated by local businesses and members of the community.

“It’s about recognizing and rewarding the kids who are in class,” said Daniel Roose, Dean of Attendance at Berkeley High, who said the past two years have been spent focusing more on the students who skip school. “We have been addressing the needs of truants, getting them resources and setting consequences. Now we want to step up the game and introduce positive incentives.”

Starting next week, at the beginning of the school’s second semester, the high school will begin a fundraising push to collect attendance rewards. Roose said he is hoping to galvanize local businesses into contributing money or products and services as rewards for kids who have good attendance.

He intends to create two funds. The first will be for small rewards — a voucher for a movie ticket or bagel — that can be given to individual students who have improved their attendance record. “I’d like to be able to go up to a student in the corridor and shake their hand and give them a coupon for a free ice cream as a way of showing appreciation,” Roose said.

The second fund will be for larger donations towards one or two big rewards that could be put in a lottery. “Ideally, this prize would be worth several hundred dollars, or even several thousand dollars, in order to generate student interest and some media buzz,” said Roose.

Attendance has been under the spotlight at BHS for the past two years, and the effort has paid off. While in 2010 only about 90.7% of the students attended school regularly, the numbers have improved steadily since then (see chart). (The data is measured using unexcused absences which do not necessarily mean the student has missed an entire day of school. It can mean he or she just missed one period.)

However the most recent numbers suggest a steadying off of the numbers and Roose admits to being a little disappointed. He believes there are two reasons that the recent figures have not continued to show improvement. “There’s been an over-reliance on what worked last year,” he said. More of the same is not necessarily what is needed, he said.

Screen shot 2013-01-20 at 5.49.24 PMIn addition, Roose said that historically teachers had not always taken attendance as seriously as they should. The more accurate counting of absences over the past year or so has had an impact on the numbers, albeit it one the school hopes will be temporary.

“There has to be a shift in the culture for everyone — parents and teachers, as well as students,” adds Roose.

In previous years, Berkeley officials have estimated that the district loses about $100,000 a month when kids do not go to high school, and has lost as much as $2.4 million a year.

Roose said the new positive reinforcement plan is one that has been adopted at many school districts around the country. He even heard of a Florida school that gave a car as a grand prize in an attendance lottery. “We don’t expect that,” he said, “but we would love to have some big-ticket items.”

Read the letter Berkeley High is sending to local businesses asking for help with the scheme.

Donations from members of the community are also welcome. Donations, which are tax-deductible can be made by check to Berkeley Public Education Foundation, with a note on the memo line BUSD Attendance Incentive Fund/BHS. Contact Daniel Roose via email at or call 510.644.6929 if you would like to make a donation or have questions.

Berkeley High Principal talks about attendance scam [04.24.12]
Attendance fraud ring exposed at Berkeley High [04.18.12]
Truancy high but improving at Berkeley High School [12.13.12]

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  • The Sharkey

    The kinds of kids who will only come to school if you bribe them to show up are the kinds of kids who are going to be disruptive in class and make it harder for everyone else to learn.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    The reward is…you don’t get kicked out of school!

  • Diane

    This is just about BHS getting money.

    And in any case, if you don’t come and don’t succeed in school, you will be working for the ones who do. As far as I’m concerned that’s enough incentive.

  • Get off my lawn

    Seriously? When I was in school the incentive was called “not failing”. If you didn’t show up, it affected your grade. Jeez.

  • Neighbor

    So… what is the implication here?
    We should not encourage these kids to attend class? Should we discourage them from attending class so they won’t be disruptive?
    If we intend to close any sort of achievement gap (remember that?), we can’t just focus on the well-behaved kids.
    Some of these kids will show up, get interested and begin doing well. Some of them won’t. And all kinds of shades in between. But shouldn’t the school district be trying? Isn’t that actually their job?

  • Woah there, Sharkey. I don’t necessarily think that attendance incentives are the right move, but to categorically write off a group of kids as not worth educating is irresponsible. High school kids are not fully developed adults, especially mentally. People can change as they mature (and often do). But they certainly won’t with that attitude.

  • bgal4

    So Saturday School failed (likely due to inconsistent implementation) and the next best thing is rewards for being responsible for your job.

    Close the campus, tell kids to make a lunch and carry it is a reusable bag.

  • 4Eenie

    This is a ridiculous short-term fix for a long-term problem. Once you set the bar at offering rewards for EXPECTED behavior, you have forever changed what motivates someone to do something. Read up on “instrinsic vs extrinsic rewards”…

  • The Sharkey

    I didn’t say they weren’t worth educating. They just don’t belong in a classroom setting mixed in with kids who are actually trying to learn in a traditional environment.

    The answer might be apprenticeships or job training, but bribery won’t solve anything.

  • The Sharkey

    Kids bringing guns onto campus, brawls in the streets – What’s it going to take to convince BHS’ administration that the high school needs to be a closed campus?

  • The Sharkey

    The implication is just that they don’t belong in traditional classrooms with kids who are trying to learn the old-fashioned way. Maybe instead of offering bribes that will mostly go to kids who are already doing what they’re supposed to, these kids need to have some sort of alternate education structure that they actually find useful and where they can’t be as disruptive as they would be in a normal classroom.

  • Numerous scholarly studies have shown that integrating all types of learners in the same classroom benefits everyone. Do a simple google search for some examples.

  • The Sharkey

    No, it benefits the majority, and only on paper. It does a massive disservice to the smartest kids in the room who get dragged down to a lower learning level and who just end up doing the work for their slower peers.

    I know from experience, since I was pulled out of a gifted program to be in some of the first test cases for those awful integrated classes and it set me back several years behind where I would have been if I had been allowed to continue on a normal advanced learning program.

  • bgal4

    Differentiated instruction requires training teachers and providing support services.

  • The smart kids do also benefit in other ways. They are challenged to think about things differently, and they’re exposed to people and culture they would have otherwise ignored. Read some articles. They’re were written by experts that have actually studied this stuff.

    What you’re saying is that public school districts should be focusing their resources on those that are already successful, not on those that need all the help they can get. That’s an extremely regressive education policy.

  • Neighbor

    This I like. Our schools need to accept that everyone learns differently and to begin to offer different approaches.
    For one thing, we need to figure out how to deal with kinetic learners who can’t sit still. Endlessly punishing them is not causing them to learn any better: outdoor classrooms have been shown to work… I’m sure there are other options out there.

  • Neighbor

    Sharkey: as someone who benefitted from gifted programs, I totally sympathize, and I am so sorry that you had this experience.
    As i said above, I really believe that we need to establish at least broad categories of learning styles in order to properly educate our kids.

  • Neighbor

    It may be that the kids that need help would get more resources, in fact, if they don’t do “traditional” learning so well…

  • getreal

    Here’s an idea, let’s terminate Roose & his position and call it a day! BHS doesn’t need a dean of attendance that sits on his ass all day. I’m sick of getting these “Notice of Excessive Absences…” in the mail. My kids missed 3 days out of the whole year. Each one was excused the following school day. Yet I still get them. Teenagers will always find a way to cut class and go get high or skip because they didn’t do the work/can’t stand the teacher (while the counselors also sit around on their rear ends and do nothing to resolve the problem). Overall this whole concept of award students for coming to class is severely flawed. They want a reward? Their reward will be the ability to get into college(if they so choose to attend) and obtain a better job.

  • The Sharkey

    What you’re saying is that public school districts should be focusing
    their resources on those that are already successful, not on those that
    need all the help they can get. That’s an extremely regressive education

    No, I am not.

    I suggested alternate learning programs for the low-achieving students, not ignoring them. Try reading what I actually write instead of making up straw man arguments and attributing them to me.

    The smart kids do also benefit in other ways. They are challenged to
    think about things differently, and they’re exposed to people and culture they would have otherwise ignored. Read some articles. They’re were written by experts that have actually studied this stuff.

    You’re basing your comments on some goofy logic, assuming that the smart kids are all mono-ethnic and of similar income levels. Perhaps that’s true in Idaho or wherever the studies you’re alluding to were done, but where I grew up my schools were diverse across all learning levels.

    The only thing *I* learned from being shuffled into mixed-level classes was how to script group presentations so that I presented the bulk of the information while the slow learners memorized just enough lines to fool the teacher without actually having to learn anything.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    You got it sharkey…I went to BHS in the late 70’s and many of my friend’s only reason to come to school were the shop classes and you could only have those electives if you maintained a certain grade level auto shop, wood shop, metal shop those shop classes saved many a young men back then but of course BUSD got rid of all the equipment and we could never afford to replace the equipment now. the sad thing is i bet we could find local retired contractors that would be willing to volunteer to either teach or help out with these classes…I know i would help out if the opportunity were to present itself.

  • The Sharkey

    It was the same at my high school down in Southern Cal. A lot of kids who had been problem students at lower grade levels found what they were looking for in Shop classes (Autoshop in particular) and it gave them a reason to keep their attendance up and do their best to behave so that they learn something they really enjoyed.

  • The Sharkey

    What we really need is educational tracking. I don’t understand why we won’t do it here, since it’s been proven to be successful in other countries.

  • The Sharkey

    Absolutely! Not to mention all the new data about how sitting still for long periods of time is so damaging to health that it can shave years off your life. Structuring learning so that students are encouraged to get up and move around a room, working on projects while standing or outdoors, could benefit students of all levels.

  • Anonymous

    High School Group work:

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Totally right. I remember reading about an Israeli day care that was annoyed by parents who picked up kids late. So they decided to impose a fine of about $5. That caused MORE late pickups because the parents were happy to pay a mere $5 for the convenience of picking up at their leisure. Worse, it changed the relationship between parents and the teachers. Previously, when parents were late, they were chagrined at having inconvenienced the teacher. But once the fine was in place, it was just another service they were paying for and the remorse was gone gone gone.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    In a strong field, this is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve seen come out of BUSD.

  • notquiteright

    The comments make a kind of sense. We as a community think that having a good attendance record is a value kids should have because education is good for them and good for us as a community and we expect them to work at getting educated. On the other hand, if some meddlesome busy-bodies want to privately donate some gifts in order to publicly honor kids who display such values in an exemplary way, and school officials want to distribute those gifts to give encouragement to kids who could use a little recognition, why that’s just foolishness. Worse than foolishness, it might attract kids to spend more time in school who we’d be better off putting someplace else. Other districts that have tried similar attendance programs to promote the value of education and they have had some seeming success but here in Berkeley we’re much smarter than that. Vice gets the stick but virtue is its own reward. When I was a kid some fools would give away a free ice cream cone and some newspapers would give mention to students with good records (not only attendance but grades, too). At the time, this just seemed like a corny but sincere way to promote a community value generate a little business. How easily I was fooled. In retrospect, I can now see that those people were just tools — tools of an incompetent school district. If you want good attendance, step up the punishment for kids who blow off class. If some kids still blow off class, probably a general education is just not for them, especially if it in any way inconveniences or stresses a more deserving student.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I don’t know in what sense of the word it is “regressive” to focus resources on those who are the most talented.

    I do know that any society that sacrifices those who are most talented to help those who need all the help they get, is a society in decline. It will have less competent scientists, teachers, doctors, and so on. Everyone will suffer as a result.

  • BHS verteran

    This is truly sick. BUSD’s ever increasing parentalism towards students is driven by CASH. It’s the CASH that accompanies each fraudulently registered student that makes it so easy for them to lie their way into our schools. It’s the CASH that the schools loses if they’re popped for a crime that keeps incidents unreported to the police. It’s the CASH, not concern for learning, that drives attendance enforcement.

  • John Holland

    This is dumb. The rewards for attendance already exist: doing better in school, and being better educated than the person you manage in your job as a grown up. I’m uber-liberal when it comes to empowerment programs, but this is ridiculous! I hate the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” approach, but there are other ways to motivate students. And some, you just can’t motivate.

  • John Holland

    You know, I started to try to think of a dumber one, and I couldn’t.

  • And who knows how many of those that need the extra help could also be successful teachers, doctors and so on if they had just had the extra push when they were younger? Focusing resources on those that already successful is like giving tax breaks to the rich.

  • EAO

    Woah, woah, woah. This story is about attendance not about the perceived overall failures of the BUSD, particularly BHS.

    If Mr. Roose thinks this might help, then by all means let him give it a try. I was a BHS student in the late 90s who always attended class. My attendance wasn’t validated by anyone, especially my peers. I would have benefited from this program.

  • BklySNMom

    i guess you’re missing the point of going to school, good grades, promising future…no? This is not going to work and is a short term fix to a forever long term issue. This is an expected behavior and more of a bribery. For instance, my nephew is only keeping up his grades to stay on sports, other than that he doesn’t see the incentive (at least not long term) of keeping grades and when I say for a better life, that’s beyond what he cares for at this moment. We are boring our kids and they need more than just a free movie ticket or bagel. I have an idea, use Roose’s salary to bring back the enrichment program(s) like in John Muir of the deaf and hard of hearing program that was successful for 25 years and the city pays extra for out of district transfers? are businesses really going to cosign this ?

  • Sam

    Let’s not forget that not every high school kid with a poor attendance record is a bad student. I had to do a ton of “time for time” because of financial reasons. At my high school, “time for time” meant staying after class or attending class on Saturday to make up for any missed time in class. Otherwise you don’t graduate. I held down a full time job during my last two years of high school, attended advanced level classes for college credit, and graduated with an almost 4.0 gpa. And I barely got that last “time for time” in before graduation ceremony. :)

    I don’t think we should jump to the conclusion that every kid who’s missing classes is a problem child / failing student.

  • The Sharkey

    Is the success of that minority worth sacrificing the futures of those who have innate talent or who excel at a given subject?

    We’ve been doing the mixed-level thing for a couple decades now here in California at least, and America is producing fewer competent scientists, teachers, doctors, engineers, and the like. I’m not saying that mixed-level classes are the cause, but they certainly aren’t producing the future doctors and engineers who “just needed an extra push” you’re arguing for.

  • The Sharkey

    Welcome back, Tom.

  • Berkeleyborn

    I went to Berkeley High in the 1980’s and I’d say this idea is ridiculous. If anything, it would be better to pool the funds and award the best students and students showing the greatest improvement in their grades who graduate with a small scholarship and formal recognition at graduation-this is something they could actually put on a resume, etc. Students who miss school are yes, occasionally so gifted that they do not need to show up to learn or simply impacted by unrecognized learning disabilities, but by and large they are either not gotten out of their houses by their parents for whatever reason to go to school, or once they leave, will focus on hanging out in the park, cutting, or spending time with other people who are also not attending school. The reality is that the school district cannot make up for poor parenting or student choices. Agreed that the cutting of shop and trade classes is sad, but to bring them back in a meaningful way means the entire system admitting to itself that there are just some kids who not going to be qualified for or succeed in college or be white collar workers/professors, which is a tough pill to swallow when your belief system says all people are equally as smart and or self motivated to learn in order to be successful in these types of fields. There is no shame in working on a trade, in fact, our plumber was charging $90/hour 8 years ago (~$45 after taxes) and had all the work he needed, which is probably more than most educated readers of this post will make at any point in their careers

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Read more closely. Roose wants to reward students who have improved their attendance, not students who maintain their attendance. Ergo, you would not have benefited since you “always attended class.”

  • Cammy

    In High School, kids who don’t want to be there just don’t come. In Middle School, it’s more likely that parents are held accountable, called, or expected to come in to find out why their child isn’t present. I would think parents would have to be contacted if a child is absent too often, but it makes you wonder what the family life is like, or if the parents care, or can do anything. Also, you have to ask why those students aren’t coming to school. Do they want to go to college? Do they have a drug/alcohol problem? Are there parents/guardians at home who care? Do they have a job outside of school that takes too much of their time? Do they have to care for younger siblings? Are they coming from another school district, such as Oakland? Do they have learning disabilities that have not been addressed? Are they bullied? This isn’t just a simplistic “reward” fix problem. A movie ticket or bagel may make zero impact if the reason for the child not going to school is not addressed.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    7 or 8 years ago, Rinat Fried did a study on enrollment fraud and attendance problems in BUSD. Since then, the district has made much ado about its attendance efforts (which bring in more CASH) and danced around the edges of the enrollment fraud problem (which would lose CASH). In short, you are entirely correct.

  • Cammy

    So true. All those are gone now. Really sad.

  • wrong

    Guess again.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I rarely quote David Brooks, but I like his column on the importance of the ability to delay gratification as a predictor for success in later life. He summarizes a study in which children who could the offer of sweets did better on tests. He also notes that the ability to delay gratification can be learned.

    It is, therefore, both ironic and sad that Roose proposes a coupon for a free ice cream cone as a reward for showing up. I wonder how many students will be unable to delay the gratification of the ice cream and will wander off campus instead of getting to their next class.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    I did work full time (40 hrs a week) in 11th and 12th grades at Berkeley high and still made it to school every day no excuses (did my homework on the bus and at lunch time on my job) different work ethic i guess.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Yay this going to be a good year…i agree with john!

  • BHS student

    As a student, I think an open campus is a great idea – besides the fact that the campus is too small to hold all 3500 of us during lunch, it also gives us some time to relax away from classes in the middle of the day. If campus were closed, fights would probably become more common because we’re all packed in together.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    If the student body were downsized to kids who actually live in Berkeley, there wouldn’t be an overcrowding problem. Then you could eat your lunch on school grounds and enjoy your break without bothering to transit elsewhere. If fights break out, you’d be in a known, controlled area and staff could deal with it swiftly.

  • BHS verteran

    Mr. Roose has given us a remarkable opportunity to peer into the mindset of BHS’s administration! I hope he’s is not punished for innocently, inadvertently, revealing how ethically adrift our high school administration has become.

    Offering prizes to attend school is an outrageous affront to the values most of us live by. You give dogs treats to learn tricks. One’s desire for an education does not turn on a treat. And if it does, then you’re more troubled than BHS’s resources can resolve.

    What does offering treats to attend school imply about BHS’s admin’s opinion of our parenting? What does it imply about their grasp of the problems at BHS? Most importantly, what does it imply about their understanding of our children?