Tackling Chronic Absenteeism in Schools
by Anthony Stasi
Aug 12, 2014 | 1114 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Two recent, and important, changes in New York City education are the mayor’s effort to provide universal pre-K for all students and the emergence of federal Common Core standards. One is more controversial than the other.

Neither one, however, takes into account the often under-measured metric of chronic absenteeism with students in the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted studies that told a truer story of how bad absenteeism was in New York City.

The numbers on the New York City Task Force for Truancy website shows statistics that are not good regardless of them being a few years old. Another study out of Johns Hopkins University with more recent data shows that New York City has a problem with truancy in its public school system.

We can debate the better ways to teach math and science, but if students are not in the classroom on a regular basis, not much else matters. Past ideas, such as mentoring programs have worked at getting students to focus and build relationships with their schools. But what do cities do to get parents more involved with attendance rates?

Many of us in Queens and Brooklyn are from blue-collar families, where our parents wanted a better education for us than they had for themselves. Our parents knew, at the very least, that we needed to be in school in order for us to have a chance in adulthood.

That sentiment may be shared by many parents today, but it is not as widespread. Too many people see education as just another government program that a child simply endures until the institution hands them a diploma.

If lawmakers want to invest more money into public education, there needs to be an online database that tracks truancy and attendance – and it needs to be updated regularly. The public needs to see if these programs are being utilized.

It is little use to criticize parents of students with truancy problems. If they were bothered by it, it would not be an issue in the first place. What the city can do, however, is offer an incentive program.

Start with the schools with the biggest truancy issues, and make a deal with parents. If a student has perfect attendance for two months, maybe the family gets a food card for $100 for a local supermarket. It would not work for all families, but we could ratchet down the numbers by making it worthwhile to families.

When one out of five students have missed a month or more of school (as was the case only a few years ago), there needs to be a conversation between parents and their children.

We did not need incentive programs 30 years ago, because the incentive to stay in school was to have a career and build a life. People have less confidence in that outcome today.

We need to create a new incentive that has a more instant effect. What is more, this is the kind of program that only costs the government money if it works. It is a back-end welfare program that only gets disbursed if the results are good.

Attendance is a statistic that we can track quite easily, so we can do this with little effort on the government end. There is no need for a new agency and more bureaucracy. If we are going to spend more money on new programs, we owe it to the public to show that the programs are being attended.

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