It's Not an Excuse: The Problem with Truancy

In a recent Courier-Journal article, the local teacher union was put in the spotlight for asking about test scores and absenteeism. While some may see this as just another excuse for low test scores, JCTA really is onto something with this.

The article lists the percentage of students who missed 20 or more school days. Let's just talk about those days. Twenty days. That's at least one month worth of classes. A unit generally lasts six weeks, so it's two-thirds of an entire unit. Think about your job. Could you miss 20 days? How much work could you get done if you missed 20 days every year. Would your employer put up with it? The only time I've ever missed that many days in a year was after giving birth. Even then, I actually only missed 25 days. The statistic also just lists students who miss a minimum of 20 days. There are students who miss more days than that.

The most absences I've had from a single student were 116. There are only 175 school days in a year, so he was present for one day less than three months of instruction.

Absences can't always be avoided. Sending an obviously sick child to school isn't doing anyone any favors. However, these absences aren't always for illness. One of the commenters on the article suggested safety as a reason why students are choosing to miss school. I wouldn't claim that every child feels safe every second of every day in ever school, but that's just not the case with every one of those students. Another commenter decided to be inflammatory and remark the absences were clear proof that even students saw how useless the teachers in our county are. Your bias and ignorance are showing, sir. I have yet to meet a student who, when asked why they missed school, replied that the teachers were too stupid to teach them. I've heard that teachers ask students to do too much work and that school interferes with their social lives, but nothing about useless teachers.

Some of the schools in the article have more than a third of their student body missing 20 or more days. My own school fell around the one fifth mark. What are we supposed to do with these students? Moreover, what are we supposed to do with the parents? Who is responsible? Should we be so brazen as to enter homes and drag students out? Should we fine and jail the parents? What's going to work? Prizes and praise on our end are not working. We can host ice cream parties, pep rallies and everything else between, but if kids aren't motivated by it, what else can we do?

The absentee rate, like so much else, is a symptom of a larger societal issue. These issues are going to continue to plague the students long after they have graduated, or should have graduated.

In the meantime, I should really learn to stop reading comments on articles. It only makes my head hurt.

Originally published at http://teachingaintforheroes.blogspot.com/2011/09/its-not-excuse-problem-with-truancy.html

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