Markets in everything the culture that is Chicago

by on November 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm in Economics, Education | Permalink

At Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s request, Walgreen Co. has agreed to provide $25 gift cards to parents who pick up their students’ report cards and participate in parent-teacher conferences during report card pickup days.

Here is more, courtesy of Peter Metrinko.

1 Bill November 1, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I would be interested in knowing how much of parent non-attendance is due to lack of transportation, or evening public transportation for parents without cars, or the cost of getting a babysitter.

Has anyone tried using a school bus to gather up the parents (who could bring along their kids who would attend a supervised school event while the parent met with the teacher).

Will we be having parent teacher conferences over the internet in the future?

2 Rahul November 1, 2012 at 11:27 pm

Chicago has a great public transportation system. Doubt a bus pickup for parents is needed.

3 Bill November 2, 2012 at 10:26 am

I disagree from experience. We live in a university community in a fairly large city, with a suburb adjacent to it with a very good public school. Students can choose urban and suburban school district. In the city, next to the university community, is graduate student housing. It is in the city, and the kids from the graduate students get picked up and delivered, if they want, to the suburban school.

For many years, very few graduate students attended parent teacher night. Those that did, either had a car or a friend with a car who would form a pool. (Public bus transport in the late fall is about every half hour with a transfer).

The school two years ago started running the school bus to pick up the parents to take them to the school 4 times in the evening; the school also scheduled “play events” for parents to drop off their kids.

Guess what happened: graduate students today are attending parent teacher conferences at the same rate as suburban families. Without Walgreens cards.

4 Go Kings, Go November 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm

There are 1,000 reasons to laugh at Emanuel, but trying to get parents to pay attention to their kids’ schooling is not one of them. A parent reading this is used to open houses crammed with both parents and some grandparents and nannies, parent-teacher conference periods that take weeks because of 100% participation, and robust parent presence at field trips, Halloween carnivals, and fundraisers. Emanuel is addressing neighborhoods where schools schedule the same events but turnout is dismal. Kids try to build connections to their parents where they perceive their parents interests lie, so it doesn’t matter how you get parents to care about school– monetary, religious, shame, guilt, lies, or obnoxiousness– because that will get kids to care.

5 Careless November 1, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I do not think this “joke” is supposed to be at the expense of the mayor.

6 zbicyclist November 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Right, Go Kings, Go.

Attendance at Literacy Night at the West Side (Chicago) charter school where my daughter teaches was dismal. So this year they decided to let people come in costume (earlier this week, just before Halloween). Result: much better attendance.

Car dealers do these stunts when they need to sell cars. If we need to sell parent-teacher cooperation in the interests of children, why not try a few stunts?

7 maguro November 1, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Ah, the joys of liberal social engineering.

I suspect that picking up report cards and showing up for parent teacher conferences aren’t particularly important behaviors in and of themselves, they’re merely “markers” for a much broader set of parenting behaviors that emphasize the importance of education.

Thus, the city’s attempt to bribe parents into caring about their kid’s education is doomed to failure.

8 Urso November 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Your “thus” doesn’t follow. Acting like a good parent, if repeated often enough, makes you a good parent.

9 msgkings November 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm

“We are what we pretend to be” – Kurt Vonnegut

10 maguro November 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm

My point is that going to p-t meetings isn’t what makes you a “good parent”, it’s just that going to p-t meetings *voluntarily* happens to be a decent marker for being a good parent. Or a parent that values education, anyway.

Kind of like how being a homeowner used to be a marker for all sorts of socially desirable outcomes, but now it isn’t so much, since they tried to make everyone a homeowner.

11 zbicyclist November 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm

No; attendance at a parent-teacher conference is an important behavior in itself. It allows the teacher to involve the parent in the learning plan and provide clearer feedback than the student is likely to provide to the parent (or the report card itself is likely to provide). I always found them helpful to me as a parent, and my kids had few problems. For kids with problems they are more important.

I don’t know that it’s “doomed to failure”. Like most similar experiments, the odds are it will have a small effect, if any. But maybe not.

12 Andrew' November 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm

It is not inherently important. There is nothing inherently important about what they teach the kids at any one point in time.

As I try to impress upon my wife, all they are teaching at our kid’s age is things conducive to managing large classrooms.

So, not only is it not inherently important, it is highly likely inherently unimportant because the skills required to sit still are highly unlikely to coincide with critical periods of development windows for inherently important skills.

Besides, many of the hoops for parents are hazing rituals. They need to train kids to sit, listen, read and write and train parents to respect the system.

13 Claudia November 1, 2012 at 8:32 pm

I don’t know I think parent-teacher conferences are informative. I learned about the teacher’s critical take on the standardized reading test and got tips on how to feed my bookworm. Oh yes and I learned that my daughter gets really annoyed with the little second grade boys who don’t do what they’re supposed to. What do they say about the apple?

Schools aren’t perfect but for most they’re part of team effort in raising our kids. Getting the team together can be important. I am usually skeptical of nudges but this one sounds pretty good to me.

14 Rahul November 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm

if you are so cynical of what they teach your kid at school, why send him (her)?

15 DocMerlin November 2, 2012 at 12:54 am

“Besides, many of the hoops for parents are hazing rituals. They need to train kids to sit, listen, read and write and train parents to respect the system.”


16 NPW November 1, 2012 at 2:31 pm

How important is attending parent teacher conferences to improving student outcomes? Would parents who are motivated to attend for a $25 gift card contribute to their child’s education any better than parents who currently chose not to attend in absence of this carrot? Separately, If it takes a parent a half an hour to get to the school and the meeting takes 0.5 hour, a $25 gift card is 10 $/hour. This would not met my reservation price.

17 Careless November 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Umm… yeah, do you think you’re the target audience? The large majority of CPS students are at or near the poverty line.

18 mobile November 1, 2012 at 3:43 pm

$25 card for one hour of effort is $25/hour. What was your parents’ attendance rate at your parent-teacher conferences? 😉

19 mulp November 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Does that mean you stop at the first gas station you see when you decide you need gas because spending any effort to save one cent or five cents or even ten cents a gallon is not worth the mental effort and planning, much less the extra time detouring to the place you know has the lowest price?

When you see the investment made in the “gas buddy” dot coms technology with smart phone apps et al, lots of people are motivated by a dollar (10 cents for 10 gallons).

But let’s get to the real issue. If you make $50/hour, you think the $25 gift card is a joke but if you work for $8 an hour, a wage that you get only because some jack boot Democrats hiked the minimum wage to $8 so you aren’t making only $6-7/hour, a $25 gift card is three hours of work – if you get your boss to let you leave early or late or in the middle for the teacher conference, you lose $8 in income, and the $25 gift card tells you the mayor, school management, and at least one Chicago business think your kids school performance is important because they are paying you more for your time than your employer.

20 Daniel November 1, 2012 at 4:33 pm

$25 / (.5 hour meeting + (.5 hour transportation *2))=$16.67 per hour

Your math doesn’t follow but your reservation price logic does, I believe correctly, show this this can only be expected to have a large effect on poorer parents.

21 Jan November 1, 2012 at 3:01 pm

The purpose of this post is to elicit “ARRGHGGGGHHHA!!!!!!!!”

But this is a good idea. Whether or not a parent makes it a priority to go to P-T meetings may be a signal that the parent is invested in his kid’s education, but attending one P-T conference can also be an eye-opener and a nudge to help a dad understand what is going on at school and communicate what the he needs to be doing to support his child’s learning at home.

22 John Mansfield November 1, 2012 at 3:13 pm

What fraction of the donated cards will be pocketed by the teachers and school administrators?

23 trouble November 1, 2012 at 3:16 pm

This is seriously idiotic. Is a $25 gift card for a parent really going to change a parents behavior? Gee, why don’t they just give the kids $25 bucks if they do better in school. I bet the kid would be more motivated than the parent.

24 Nate November 1, 2012 at 3:24 pm

People routinely spend 60-90 minutes in line for free ice cream (a ~$3.00 item) during Ben and Jerry’s Free Cone Day. I think you seriously underestimate the reservation price for many.

25 mulp November 1, 2012 at 4:31 pm

More drive an extra mile to save a penny a gallon of gas, which is a ten cent savings.

26 Jan November 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm

It’s not the money that will motivate them to change behavior, it is the meeting with the teacher. Good lord.

27 libert November 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Argh! Harnessing the power of economic incentives to encourage people do something desirable!? How offensive!

Seriously though, the only thing to criticize from an economic perspective in this case is that they are getting paid in gift cards and not cash.

28 dead serious November 2, 2012 at 9:04 am

That’s so it doesn’t go straight toward booze and drugs!

29 Careless November 6, 2012 at 11:43 am

Walgreens sells liquor here, for the record

30 Rob November 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Many of those parents who actually use the card will likely spend well in excess of $25 while they are in Walgreens, making the “gift” simply a discount, and some may even be converted into more regular Walgreens shoppers. Those who don’t use the card won’t have cost Walgreens any money at all. Finally, Walgreens gets to look like a good corporate citizen and increase customer goodwill through its advertising vehicle, which is promoted by Emanual and the news media. Sounds like a great program, and I’m surprised we don’t see stuff like this more often.

31 Miley Cyrax November 1, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Yes, this is shrewd CSR by Walgreens. This program won’t move the needle on parenting effectiveness, but I have to applaud Walgreens for this maneuver.

32 Jan November 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I applaud Rahm Emanuel for being smart enough to know that Walgreen’s would do this for free.

33 DocMerlin November 2, 2012 at 12:56 am

Its Chicago, they don’t really have a choice. Chicago is corrupt and heavily regulated enough that if they don’t do what the mayor asks, they can be shut down or forced out of town.

34 The D-man November 2, 2012 at 3:01 am

Yes, and now because of this CVS and Osco have all shut down and moved away. Walgreens now has a monopoly in Chicago.


35 Jan November 2, 2012 at 7:08 am

Yes, Doc, businesses get driven out of Chicago all the time for not taking suggestions that would make them money. Isn’t this something that conservatives should like? A public-private partnership that helps Walgreens advertise its new rewards card while boosting parent involvement in education sounds pretty innocuous. If this were happening in Oklahoma, I believe the reaction would be a bit different.

“I’ve got this gift card and it’s (expletive) golden. I’m not just giving it up for (expletive) nothing. [evil laugh]” Korrupt Chi-Town Official

36 Chris M. November 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm

It’s like paying your kid to do the dishes.

37 Evan Harper November 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I remember (I think it was) Dan Ariely using the example of paying your kid to do the dishes to explain how monetary incentives can backfire by crowding out personal obligation as a motivator. So, my guess is that Rahm’s scheme will depress parent participation, by encouraging them to think of not picking up a report card as merely passing up on $25, rather than failing to right by one’s kids.

38 Urso November 1, 2012 at 5:09 pm

What’s this about “crowding out?” Is there evidence that kids who are paid to do the dishes are less likely to do the dishes when they grow up?

Actually, maybe there is, but it’s only because kids who voluntarily do the dishes don’t get to the point where their parents are tempted to bribe them.

You’re really looking at two distinct groups – one made up of people who are already willing to do dishes (or go to p-t meetings) for free, and one made up of those who won’t. I find it hard to believe that people who would have gone for free will all of a sudden stop going if you pay them $25.

Also, this isn’t new. When I was a kid they didn’t pay the parents outright, but they did raffle off door prizes.

39 AndrewL November 1, 2012 at 8:11 pm

“Johnny, eat your vegetables and you can have ice cream…” – That’s a bribe to get your kid to eat his vegetables. “Attend this Parent-Teacher meeting, and I’ll give you a 25$ gift card” – That’s a bribe, and it’s insulting to parents.

40 Turkey Vulture November 1, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I think this deserves a more subtle critique than what I’ve seen in some of the comments.

I am completely blanking on where I saw this, but I thought some research suggested that some of these types of incentive programs – like the Book-It Pizza Hut thing I did as a kid – actually reduce the desired activity in the long term, at least among a certain segment of kids. Specifically, I believe the research I am thinking of found that kids who were likely to read a lot on their own – though maybe not the most intense book-worms – read less in the longer term as a result of the program.

The reasoning, I believe, is straightforward: something that was incentivized by internal reinforcement (liking to read, liking to learn, something like that) comes to depend, to some extent, on external reinforcement (free pizza!). Remove the external reinforcement, and the same internal reinforcement isn’t there any more.

Or, alternatively, it’s some kind of endowment effect: once the kid expects both an internal satisfaction AND a free pizza for reading, removing the free pizza makes the internal satisfaction seem worse than if he’d never heard of Book-It.

(If anyone knows what study or studies I am thinking of here, please point me to them. A half-hearted search produced nothing.)

Anyway, as applied to the $25 gift card, I think this could reduce the future incentive of those who had already been regularly attending the parent-teacher conferences to show up.

For those who hadn’t been going, though, this would seem like a step in the right direction.

So the question then is: is the benefit from getting the marginal rarely-participating parents more involved greater than the harm caused by reducing attendance by some more-involved parents? My guess would be yes, the benefit is greater, as for parents who are already fairly involved, going to a few less teacher-parent conferences is unlikely to have much impact on them, or their kid’s performance.

But it seems like this would suggest a better program design: offer the gift card only to those parents who have never attended a conference before (unless this is the first one ever offered), or parents who didn’t come last time, or something like that. Though even with this there might be some “Hey that’s not fair!” problems to consider.

41 freethinker November 2, 2012 at 7:12 am

If parents have to be “bribed” to attend parent teacher meetings, they do not deserve to be invited

42 nobody important November 3, 2012 at 2:58 am

I didn’t think much of serving as a juror until I was called for jury duty and sat on a murder case. The simple fact that I was exposed to the process changed my outlook immensely. A small amount of exposure can make a big difference.

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