Truancy has no simple solution

Chronically absent students continue to increase in number despite efforts by school districts to combat the problem (“Schools Crack Down as More Students Cut Class,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 31).  Nearly 8 million, or about 16 percent of students, are chronically absent for missing at least 15 days in the 2015-16 school year.

There are many reasons for the disturbing trend.  I think the most important is that many students see little, if any, connection between what they are required to study and their lives.  But there are also students who need to take care of their younger siblings because their parents don’t have the funds to hire babysitters.  What works in the former will not work in the latter.

Incentives have a mixed track record because they are a shotgun approach.  Bribery can sometimes work for borderline cases.  But when poverty is so severe that parents must rely on their oldest children to care for their youngest, they are ineffective.  Attendance officers can identify the cause of chronic absenteeism and help parents get their children back on track.

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6 Replies to “Truancy has no simple solution”

  1. Perhaps a/the main cause of chronic absenteeism is the fact that the student finds academic work to be very difficult/frustrating. There is almost certainly a very high correlation between chronic absenteeism and poor academic performance. Of course, it’s possible that the chronic absenteeism is causing the poor academic performance rather than the converse. But, I bet that if we looked at the academic performance of students who became chronically absent in middle school or high school, we would see that these students had poor academic performance in the elementary grades — before they started the chronic absenteeism.

    If this is the case, then the most effective way to reduce chronic absenteeism is to improve a child’s environment from birth through kindergarten so that the child will start kindergarten with “grade level” development of the skills/abilities needed to perform academic work.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: There are several reasons for chronic absenteeism. But I think the most important is that students see no connection between what they are studying and their interests. That is particularly so in high school. In lower grades, the likely reason is failure of parents to reinforce lessons learned at school.

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  3. I agree with you 100% that many students do not see any connection between what they are required to study and their lives.
    I have taught in schools where truancy was not a problem They were vocational technical related. They were either voc/tech schools or comprehensive high schools. Students did not want to miss their “shop classes”.
    With today’s technology, teachers are able to upload their lessons(audio and video) to their websites so students can view them on their computers and/or cell phones.
    Many high schools offer day care for students’ children, teachers’ children, and students’ brothers and sisters.
    Middle schools should go back to teaching mechanical drafting, wood shop, foods, and sewing.
    I believe that if students feel that teachers and/or administrators care about them, the changes will be amazing.

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  4. mathcoach2: I’ve seen the same thing. When students perceive a connection between what they are studying and their interests, they will not be truant. But we persist in the fiction that college is for everyone. No wonder so many students are disaffected. I would be too if I were in their shoes. Other countries are more realistic than we are.

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    1. Certainly, students are more likely to come to school if they perceive their classes as relevant to their lives/interests. However, I’m pretty sure that the students with higher GPAs generally have much lower absenteeism rates than the students with lower GPAs. Speaking from my anecdotal personal experience, I had a high GPA in high school and was rarely absent (at least until second semester senior year), but I did not perceive my classes as being relevant to my life/interests. To the contrary, I was pretty sure at the time that I would never have any real world use for most of the material being taught. I did, of course, recognize that I needed to get good grades in order to get into a “good” college and this motivated me to attend class/work hard academically. And, the academics were mildly enjoyable because I did well in them and knew I would do well in them. My sense is that the overwhelming majority of my fellow “good” students who showed up every day and did their academic work diligently shared my view that little of what we were learning was directly relevant to our lives or interests.

      For students who are handicapped from kindergarten by weak academic skills/abilities, I agree that they will be more likely to come to school if they will be receiving vocational instruction (that they perceive as relevant to their lives and that they will be able to do well at). I also strongly agree that our K-12 school systems should place much greater emphasis on encouraging students to pursue non-college careers rather than leading students to believe that non-college careers are for losers. However, in my opinion, the fundamental cause of most chronic absenteeism is the student’s inability to perform academic work so that academic classes are frustrating/difficult.

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  5. mathcoach2: Perfect attendance is no assurance of learning because some students are placed in the wrong class based on their ability. But high absenteeism is a guarantee of failure unless a student is a genius.

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