New Article: June Kronholz on Truancy

In a new article posted on the Ed Next website, June Kronholz looks at the problem of truancy (aka absenteeism).

There are no good nationwide statistics on truancy–states and school districts vary in how they define it—but where states do report truancy figures, they are alarming, Kronholz writes in “Truants.” To understand why so many kids are willing to “dodge traffic, hide out in shoe stores, and risk apprehension by an armed officer to skip school,” Kronholz, a former education reporter for the Wall Street Journal, spent a weekday afternoon at her local Starbucks talking to the teenagers she encountered there about why they were not in school.

Kronholz went on to take a close look at some tools that schools, courts, social workers, nonprofits and the police have used to try to get truants back in school. In one school district, an automated calling system made 625,000 phone calls to parents about attendance issues in one year. At a middle school, chronically absent students meet with a group of mentors that include a family-court judge, a district attorney, and a school social worker, and students whose attendance improves can win prizes. A principal at a high school in Virginia referred 70 students to court for child-in-need-of-supervision hearings. A KIPP school drops students from the rolls for violating their attendance contracts. In Washington, DC, seven full-time truancy patrols made up of 2 police officers regularly sweep neighborhoods around schools for truants. A judge in Montgomery County, MD hears criminal misdemeanor cases against parents whose children have not been attending school. The state of Washington passed a law that punishes students with up to seven days in juvenile hall for unexcused absences. As the title of the article puts it, “keeping kids in school is no easy task.”

In addition to the article, “Truants: The challenges of keeping kids in school,” which will appear in the Winter 2011 issue of Ed Next, a new podcast has been posted on the website about what causes truancy and about different ways of fighting truancy.

In “Fighting Truancy: Voices from the trenches,” Ed Next talks with Jessica Pinson Pennington, executive director of the Truancy Intervention Project in Georgia, and Barbara Babb and Gloria Danziger of the Truancy Court Program organized by the Center for Families, Children and the Courts at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

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