Posted: March 30th, 2022
Attendance is a critical factor in school performance. But while poor attendance and truancy have been problems for schools virtually ever since anti-truancy laws were passed, as noted by Tomal, Schilling, & Trybus (2013), finding reliable data can be a challenge to accurately evaluate the extent of the problem, the specific groups most severely impacted by the issue of truancy, and thus solving the problem has been vexing for many educators. This paper will offer a literature review of different previous researchers’ perceptions of the issue in different contexts, the data they used, and the solutions they derived as a result of this data.
According to Kenneth Reid’s 2003 article “The Search for Solutions to Truancy and Other Forms of School Absence,” truancy is a significant factor in dropping out for many students. Reid’s article specifically focuses on the United Kingdom where nearly 35% of students leave school without any formal qualification, despite punitive efforts by the government such as increasing fines and truancy prosecutions as well as positive efforts such as mentoring programs and the creation of education action zones (Reid 2003). In Great Britain, and, according to the article, certain areas of the United States, school leaving rates are among some of the highest in the developed world. These rates may even be conservative, since there are incentives for schools to underreport data and in some instances, students may simply not register with a school after changing location or find other ways to effectively stay off the grid of truancy reporting.
The article suggests a national inquiry both into the general reasons that students leave school early and also a review of the social support system of the nation. Welfare officers, educators, and social welfare workers must all become involved in a joint effort to combat truancy. There should also be a review of the educational curriculum, according to Reid (2003, given that in the UK, excessive standardization is seen as a significant impediment to student education and enjoyment of the learning process. It is worth reflecting that in the United States, there has been a drive to increasing standardization of the school system, ostensibly to ensure that students are not left behind but which may result in students becoming alienated when they are not adequately prepared and cannot meet existing standards.
There have been some community-based efforts to combat truancy. But even when effective, according to Reid, this is not an adequate replacement for a general federal initiative to deal with the issue. “Truancy has far too long thrived on inadequate, piecemeal, and haphazard local solutions” (Reid, 2003, p.5). In particular, a lack of effort to engage in early interventions at the primary school level have been linked with lingering truancy problems later on; most students who engage in truancy during secondary school began in the primary grades. School record-keeping regarding truancy should be fully audited, which can be facilitated through the use of online technology and record-keeping. Similarly, schools can also use online sharing and discussion to note what practices have reduced truancy in an effective manner. Schools should also develop official policies to facilitate reintegration of students after periods of prolonged absence.
The responsibility of parents in truancy cases should also be reconsidered, according to Reid (2003), although he does not fully advocate giving parents sole legal responsibility for their child’s truancy. Although Reid does use data he has amassed from objective sources of information, such as government databases, his solutions are more theoretical in nature and not necessarily grounded in statistical evidence that the initiatives he suggests will work. He admits that given that statistics about the problem are difficult to confirm for accuracy, determining whether to target schools, parents, or students themselves is likewise a challenge.
While Reid (2003) focuses primarily upon how to create national policy changes in educational programs, Mallett (2016) instead focuses on truancy as a social problem and thus focuses on the available data regarding who commits the act, not simply how often. “Truancy is a problem for many students, but disproportionately impacts vulnerable and already at-risk children and adolescents,” he notes, thus creating a vicious cycle, given that students with little support in the home are more likely to have poor academic records, drop out, become delinquent, and develop further social problems as a result (Mallett, 2016, p.337). Mallett (2016) also notes that the juvenile justice system seems determined to subvert rather than promote the chances of society’s most vulnerable members to succeed. One significant statistic is that the majority of incarcerated youths are minority (68%) males, suggesting that the juvenile justice system may have a disproportionate, negative impact upon this demographics’ education (Mallett 2016). Truancy is also manifest to a greater degree in socially marginalized groups such as LGBT teens, presumably due to bullying and other social challenges (Mallett 2016).
Mallet (2016) also notes that the majority of crimes in the juvenile justice system are status-related offenses, such as truancy, which would not be offenses for an adult. This highlights the extent to which the justice system can subvert rather than promote education, since youths are often penalized for their actions rather than have the causes of their truancy addressed, such as difficulties in the home. This is reflected, he believes, in some of the inadequate data regarding delinquency which, like Reid (2003), he also remarks upon. Most data focus on delinquency, because of the belief that this is a danger to society, versus truancy in and of itself, because this is seen as harmful more to the student and his or her family. Factors that have been found to be correlated with delinquency include academic struggles; being retained for a grade; being placed in special education without a clear disability; substance abuse issues; and social alienation (Mallett, 2016, p.338).
Like Reid (2003), Mallet (2016) does offer some social prescriptions to improve the justice system and ameliorate the difficulties. He states that the data indicates that “punitive, controlling, and zero tolerance-based discipline policies have been ineffective for most adolescents involved with school discipline protocols and juvenile court practices,” given that they do not address the core motivations behind the juvenile’s actions (Mallet, 2016, p.339). Mallet’s (2013) assertion is supported by research by Skola & Williamson (2012) in which a mentoring program in Georgia known as the Truancy Intervention Project (TIP) led to a reduction in the state’s dropout rate at nearly twice the national rate. By tracking data regarding successful and unsuccessful interventions, it is suggested, some useful steps can be taken that have a positive impact on the lives of teens.
Data is thus vital to ensure that anti-truancy programs are effective. It is not enough to merely note that truancy is a problem. Specific demographic patterns must be noted to ensure that solutions are targeted and meaningful. Furthermore, after the implementation of specific programs, data on their efficacy and areas in which they were successful and unsuccessful can enable schools and governments alike to use approaches that genuinely work, versus simply putting into place harsh sanctions to punish truants and their families.
Mallet, C. (2016). Truancy: It’s not about skipping school. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 33:337–347.
Reid, K. (2003). The search for solutions to truancy and other forms of school absence. Pastoral Care, 1-9.
Skola, E. & Williamson, K. (2012). The truancy intervention project: Our tips for success. Family Court Review, 50 (3): 405-412.
Tomal, D., Schilling, C., & Trybus, M. (2013). Leading school change. The Concordia University Leadership Series.
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