The City of Chicago started incentivizing parents to come pick up their children's report cards by offering gift cards to Walgreens. I'm sure it will hook a couple of parents to come in, but the problem is it is not a sustainable solution. Parents who don't value education in itself as a noble pursuit, or even a career-oriented pursuit, are not going to be involved in their students lives just for a gift card.
They tried a similar project with students in North Chicago. If students at the high school got at least straight Cs every week/month, they would get a cash reward. The program was seen as a way to incentivize low-achieving, poor students to get good grades by motivating them to get the one thing they didn't have in their lives, money. Spoiler alert: It failed. The first month went okay, but by the end of the program, kids who originally didn't care about school STILL didn't care about school even with relatively easy to obtain cash.
Despite what big business thinks, money is not the great motivator. If it was, everyone would be a Wall-Street broker. This will sound corny, but education is a journey. Kids have to find it fun and stimulating, but also see that it will further not only their career prospects but themselves as a person, and the same goes for parents. You can't foster that kind of thinking by giving parents gift cards for coming to report card pick-up or students cash for good grades.
Sadly, lack of parent involvement is a vicious cycle. The current less-involved parents were once kids who also had uninvolved parents and on and on and on. The many reasons that cause people to disengage from and devalue education stem from poverty: Lack of resources at the school, financially stressed out parents, and lack of general opportunity in their neighborhood. Once someone stops caring about education, it's very hard to win them back. Those kids who stop caring eventually turn into adults who pass on those beliefs to their children, and we have an epidemic on our hand.
So, how do we fix it? Clearly, early intervention is important but that means providing real resources not token prizes like gift cards. We need to change work policy so that parents in low-wage jobs can take the day off to go to their child's school without fear of retaliation or lack of pay. We need to promise kids who do well that they can go to college without the fear of loans. We need more social workers in the schools that can go visit the parents and kids at their homes. Years of disengagement will not be fixed with gift cards or other small prizes for sheer participation. It can be better addressed by fixing the larger reasons that cause disengagement like poverty.
Check out my other posts on education: