Editorial: Threats and bribes at home and at school

Parenting is all about threats and bribes, or so the joke goes. We don’t know if parenting gurus approve of that theory, but last week’s report about reducing school absenteeism brought it to mind.

Bend-La Pine Schools reported Tuesday that its south county schools were making progress in reducing chronic absenteeism, in which students miss 10 percent or more of school days.

Students and their parents apparently weren’t responding to the very real threat of failure, short-term and long-term. So the schools instituted a complex web of bribes, from extra recess to popcorn at movies, to chances to win a bike. The plans include plenty of parent education as well, and lots of time and attention from school faculty and staff. Sometimes the solution is providing a gas card or arranging for a neighbor to pick them up.

And it’s making a difference.

Comparing chronic absenteeism in 2012-13 with figures from this March, rates dropped:

• From 41 percent to 33 percent at La Pine High.

• From 35 percent to 22 percent at La Pine Middle.

• From 25 percent to 22 percent at La Pine Elementary.

• From 23 percent to 18 percent at Rosland Elementary.

Bend-La Pine’s schools, like those throughout Oregon, have a problem with absenteeism. In 2009-10, nearly 25 percent of students statewide were considered chronically absent, according to ECONorthwest. A more recent report in The Oregonian said that in 2012-13, the statewide rate was 24 percent in high school, 20 percent in eighth grade and 18 percent in first grade. Bend-La Pine reported its overall rate in 2012-13 was 21 percent, and it has now fallen to 18 percent.

Students who miss school regularly are at much greater risk for failure. They don’t establish good habits, they have critical gaps in their learning, and they drop out at higher rates. Solving low attendance could go a long way toward shrinking the achievement gap between student groups.

We wish educators didn’t have to resort to bribes. We wish they could spend their time and energy on educating students already in their seats. But it’s a sad truth that too many parents don’t make it a priority to get their kids to school. Schools are wise to act accordingly and use whatever methods are effective.