In my (mercifully, for all concerned, brief) time as a boss, I came across an interesting phenomenon when it came to employees calling in sick.
There are those of us who will stay home to nurse the first sign of a blister. And then there is the other kind.
You know them (and no doubt work with them), those sickly superheroes who drag themselves in on the verge of pneumonia, hacking and feverish but motivated by some mix of responsibility, pride and maybe even guilt, oblivious to their colleagues wincing at every sneeze and fashioning makeshift surgical masks out of Kleenex to avoid contagion. (Once when I showed signs of this myself, my boss pointed out dryly, "The newspaper will come out even if you're gone a day." Okay, point taken.)
Which brings us to the cockeyed lesson we're teaching kids through high school policies that let them avoid taking exams just for showing up.
Or what we could call: Extra Points for Having a Strong Immune System.
In Hillsborough County schools, students with at least a C and perfect attendance can skip half of their exams. Miss three or four days and get out of one or two exams. (Pinellas' somewhat more sensible policy, at least on the sick front, lets A and B students miss up to nine days and still get out of some exams.)
So. What about colds, which teenagers have been known to get?
The flu? Stomach viruses? Family emergencies?
Sorry. Have the bad luck to get sick and the desire to take care of yourself and not infect others, and no perk for you.
So the lesson here is?
Teaching kids that school attendance is not optional is a good thing. But the flaw in dangling this particular carrot is obvious: We motivate sick kids to come to school, not good for the sick kid nor the petri dish it creates for teachers and fellow students. Hillsborough's current policy sees no difference between a slacker with a sniffle and someone in need of emergency surgery, though that may be reviewed this spring.
Bigger point: Exactly what have students done to earn this fat perk? Made good grades? Gone the extra mile? Nope. Just showed up.
Again, the lesson here is?
If attendance were at an abysmal low, maybe you could make a case for creative motivators. The best example I read about from across the country was donated, education-related prizes like laptop computers, or any award that wasn't just letting a kid get out of showing what he did or didn't learn in class.
What do we teach students by telling them it's not all that important to prove what knowledge they've gained by passing a test — as long as they consistently had their butts in their seats? How does this prepare a kid for college courses in which a final can be a very big deal?
Now here's the kicker, as reported by the Times' Letitia Stein this week.
Hillsborough and Pinellas offer exam exemptions. Pasco doesn't. Students are just expected to, you know, show up. And take tests.
So of course Pasco has fewer kids coming to school, right?
Nope. Average high school attendance for the 2007-2008 school year was 93.8 percent — just slightly higher than in the aforementioned exam-exempting counties.
Seems there's a lesson in there somewhere. Maybe even a test.