Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Cure or a Placebo?

A recent CBS Evening News report highlighted a program used in the Dallas school system that provides a GPS device to chronically truant kids.

Prior to beginning a pilot program at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas, the student profiled in the report had missed 160 school days out of 185.

Yes, it’s very clear the Dallas school system needed a program to enforce the school attendance laws which exist in every area of our country ( I hope), but it is amazing to me that prior to this program a student could get to the point that they could miss that many days which no penalty other than failing their classess. Once the student got to 5, 10, 15, 20 absences was it just ignored?

I do agree with Byan Adams High School Principal Cynthia Goodsell when she states, “We’re [the school system and school employees] accountable whether they show up or not, we’re accountable for the graduation rate, the attendance. If they’re not here, we can’t teach them and we’re accountable for the coursework.”

The story also reminds us when there high dropout rates exist school districts loose money….the Dallas school district in the story loses as much as $10 million dollars a year because they have the highest dropout rate in Texas.

While the GPS program may be working the Dallas area to curb truancy, and I am a rabid supporter for all school systems linking up with the court system to enforce school attendance laws, there’s something terribly, terribly wrong about the whole picture painted here.

True, the courts do become involved when students skip school and the student highlighted in the story only received his GPS device due to a court order, but are the true symptoms being addressed?

I say no, and so do many of the comments left once this story was filed.

One comment says it best, “Simple, truant children, those who are routinely late or absent, come from dysfunctional homes. Those homes in my experience are lead by caregivers who are more concerned about their own pleasures and convenience than the welfare of their children. Some may say that this is an unkind assessment. My response to them is simple, visit these homes and you will see that this is not an aberration. While some caregivers have a difficult time because of poverty, work schedules or transitioning to a single parent household; the majority simply refuse to exercise self control or basic order in their homes."

This same comment continued, “…and this assessment is supported by various national studies. Research from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education have found that child neglect and family disorganization are major factors in truancy. The OJJDP also found that “Truancy has been clearly identified as one of the early warning signs of students headed for potential delinquent activity, social isolation, or educational failure via suspension, expulsion, or dropping out.”

Another person stated, “This is stupid. PARENTS READ THIS: If you think your child needs to have a monitoring device to make sure they are going to school, then you are pathetic parents and should have your children taken away. This is a parenting issue and nothing else. It is our job to ensure our children get a good education and not the governments…Parents that allow this are worthless parents and shouldn''t even have kids. Turn off the game consoles, computers and televisions and stop being lazy parents and take control of the lives that are supposed to be the most precious in your life right now. Quit depending on drugs, and government control in raising your children.”

Unfortunately as we continue to try and solve our education woes we will continue to blame the school, blame the teacher, blame the inept administrator, blame the violence and peer pressure, blame boring teaching methods, blame poverty, and many other reasons why kids are truant.

Our legislators are more willing to compile a long list of situations for blame that contains many of the symptoms of the problem, but are unwilling to point the finger where it really belongs. Our career politicans are more willing to lead us down the road of empty speeches that merely end in cul-de-sacs of platitudes and buzz words than real finger pointing and solutions.


It’s easier to blame the education system for truancy issues. It’s easier to tie quick fixes for the problem (let’s just get the numbers down so things will look nice) to NCLB and federal funding.

It’s easier, but until we point the finger where it truly belongs and society begins to look down its nose at those individuals in our society who continually treat their children as accesssories we will continue to have the truant students, violent students, and students and parents who firmly believe consequences don’t apply to them.


Anonymous said...

While I support the GPS tracking device system, there is a much simpler dropout prevention method that goes to the center of the problem.

As a certified history teacher I strongly believe in history, and as a social worker I believe in personal history. Most of our children have none they are aware of. They do not think of their history and their goals, their future. That is the most common characteristic of dropouts, lack of goals. That fact is why we started a time-capsule, class reunion plan in our middle school 4 years ago. Now the 10th grade enrollments are up 10% at the two high schools our students attend. We have them thinking more of their own goals and their future. They liked the idea of writing letters to themselves that they placed into a 350-pound vault bolted to the floor in our middle school lobby. The last week of 8th grade each Language Arts class poses holding their letters for a photo. Then they place their letters on the shelf, one of 10 in the vault, for their class. They know it will stay there until their 10-year reunion.

Students each get a copy of that photo with project details and the reunion plans on the back.

This simple focus on the future is keeping our inner city Dallas kids in school in greater numbers. See details at http://www.studentmotivation.org.

EHT said...

Bill, thanks so much for stopping by and letting us know how your school is working on the problem. I agree that many of our students have no personal history and no personal goals. It certainly is part of our job to help to make them aware.

With the use of Facebook and MySpace more and more kids are able to stay in contact with each other through school and on into their college years while I lost contact with many of my friends during my first year of college. Perhaps your classes could set up pages where each class group could check in from time to time, maintain those relationships, and keep each other accountable.

Relationships....student to student, parent to student, and teacher to student are so very important in the accountability department.

Meredith said...

Ah, such a tricky subject. I'm constantly wondering where school responsiblity and student/parent responsibility lie. For example, a neighboring district has begun day care centers in the High School for their pregranr mother students. Excuse me? Are you just enabling them to get pregnant? I know what you're saying about truency, we DO need to get them to class, but should we also dress them, feed them breakfast and offer a limo service to get to school? It's a conundrum to me.