Sunday, September 07, 2014

Combating chronic absenteeism; not "who" but "how"

In the Journal this morning, link, Del Archuleta and Terri Cole of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce implore community action in the effort to combat chronic absenteeism.

September is national Attendance Awareness Month and there is no other state that needs more awareness on chronic absenteeism than New Mexico.
Is a lack of awareness really the problem?  Is it even an issue?

There is awareness enough of chronic absenteeism.  The problem does not persist because of a lack of awareness.  It persists because of a lack of solution.  Awareness is not a solution and increased awareness is not going to create one.

All an effort to "increase awareness" will create is an opportunity to hold a bunch of public meetings to make it look like someone is doing something.  Does anyone really believe someone is going to stand up at one of these meetings and finally share the magic spell that will cure truancy?
There is no magic, there are no magicians.

There are solutions we have yet to try.

First, let's separate the apples from the oranges; the "chronically absent" students who want to be in school from the "truant" students who do not.

The truants who do not want to be in school to be educated cannot be forced to learn.  Compulsory attendance and becoming educated are not the same thing.  You really cannot make a horse drink water.  While attendance can be made mandatory, learning cannot.  Education is not something one person does to another; it is something a person does to them self.  The best teacher in the world cannot educate a child against their will.

The solution to the problem of students who choose truancy is the simplest.  Offer they something they want or wait until they find what you willing to offer, attractive.  The more alternatives we offer, and the more attractive those alternatives are are, the more likely truants will return to school and their education.

Nothing else matters.

Those who argue, children can't learn if they are not is school, and feel justified in then dragging children kicking and screaming into classrooms of students who do want to learn, and then expect them to participate positively in their education; miscomprehend children and learning.  The believe apparently, a child in school is a child who is learning.  I would invite those people to substitute teach for a day or two, to cure their boggle.

As for children who can't make it to school for reasons beyond their control; the solution is two fold
  1. address the issues that keep them from school, and
  2. address the issues created by their not being in school.
As to the second; we do chronic absentee, truants and even the very occasionally absent student disservice by further penalizing them for not being in school.  If a child is home sick for a week, that child falls a week in their education. That's one consequence.

Another entirely separate consequence is that they are a week behind everyone else's education and are expected to catch up, while at the same time, stay up with a group of kids with whom they have little more in common than the year of their birth and the neighborhood they live in.

Ask a teacher, it doesn't work.  Students who fall behind will continue to fall further behind.

Every student has a certain amount of ground to cover between K and 12.  All they really have to do is cover the ground, they don't have to cover it at exactly the same speed and don't have to follow exactly the same path.

All educational achievement gaps are individual and every student has one.  There is only one child at a time, and the difference between where they are and where they could be on their path to graduation.  Each has their own obstacles to becoming educated.

The question becomes whether we will identify those obstacles and address them individually.  There are no group solutions to individual problems.

There are no socio-economic or ethnic education gaps.  There are no Native American, Hispanic nor African American education gaps.  There are no Native American, Hispanic nor African American absenteeism rates.There is only one child at a time who is either engaged on not in their education, who is in school or who is not, and whose individual problems we will address, or not.

The so called educational gaps of groups of students are created to sell "group solutions" and group solution experts.  The numbers reflect only the success of a misguided effort to standardize the individual performance of students.  It's nonsense.  But, it does make people a lot of money and garner them a lot of power and prestige.

Archuleta and Cole argue;
the community must move toward a larger conversation about the impact of missing any school, whether excused or unexcused.
They are wrong in so far as they fail to grasp the context in which absenteeism and truancy exist.  The larger conversation must be about public education in general, including but not limited to the whole notion of cemetery seating and the effort to standardize individual performance, and their effects on chronic absenteeism and truancy.

Public education needs to revisit its fundamental mission.
Do we really want to prepare students for standardized tests,
or would we and they, be far better off if the mission, ultimate goal and primary objective is creating independent lifelong learners at the earliest opportunity?

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