Wednesday, August 3

A bad name for a good program

In my "previous life" on television, my last beat was education.

Birmingham's City School System had an annual problem with students who waited until after Labor Day to come to classes. It was a cultural thing here, and a lot of parents needed re-educated about why missing three weeks of school is a bad thing.

Once the system started having severe financial problems, it became dire. The state allocates funds based on average enrollment for the first 40 days of the school year. If a sizable chunk of the student body isn't around, the money goes away. Yikes!

To combat the problem, Birmingham instituted an initiative called (I'm not making this up) "Just Show Up".

Talk about your inspirational messages! It ranks right up there (down there) with "Delta: We Get You There!" (late, sans luggage, and hungry... but THERE.)

Needless to say, the program caught a lot of heat for sending the wrong message to kids. After all, we don't want them just showing up. We want them learning things, and becoming better future citizens. The project was already being slammed as a dismal failure before it was halfway through.

At the halfway point of the 40-day census period, I asked for the enrollment figures from that year-to-date compared to the previous year. Based on my calculations (ones which the schools lacked either the ability or the creativity to figure), Birmingham's Board of Education "saved" more than $6,000,000 that would have been lost had the students "shown up" along past patterns.

"Just Show Up" just plain worked, in terms of getting the word out and getting butts in seats. But it still wasn't working as a positive message once the morning bell rang.

This year, the same program has a new title and a new theme: "Going to the Head of the Class."