Looking at absenteeism in school system

Published 11:08 pm Thursday, June 9, 2016

By Gerald Shirley
Shirley is the former superintendent of the Selma City School System.

Chronic school absenteeism is affecting America’s schools and students’ academic performance.  A study released by the U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights said nationwide, more than 6.5 million students, or about 13 percent are chronically absent, including more than 3 million high school students and more than 3.5 million elementary school students. This equates to at least three weeks of the school year. Alabama’s absentee rate was 12.5 percent.

Absenteeism is when a student misses a class without giving a proper reason for his or her absence.  Chronic absenteeism is when a student misses 10 percent or more of a school year. A review of existing literature said the most common reasons for absenteeism are: sickness, lack of interest in class activities and studies, fear of going to school due to bullying and poor peer relations.

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Students have to be in their classrooms to learn.  According to Associated Press’ analysis, girls were just as likely as boys to habitually miss school. Nearly 22 percent of all American Indian students were reported as regularly absent, followed by Native Hawaiians at 21 percent and black students at 17 percent.  Hispanic and Caucasian students were close to the national average of 13 percent.

Black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended as white students and nearly twice as likely to be expelled, according to data collected from the 2013-14 academic year by the department of education. Minority students tend to have less experienced teachers in some of the core subjects than caucasian pupils. Experts agree that there is a connection with classroom teacher experience and student learning.

Research has proven that inexperience teachers are often less skilled in managing classrooms, and pupils who are not academically challenged will sometimes create discipline problems. Ten percent of teachers in schools with large black and Latino student populations are in their first year of teaching, compared with 5 percent of teachers in schools with small black and Latino populations, according to the government’s data.

The Obama administration launched a program in 2015 called Every Student, Every Day. It partners with states and local groups in 30 communities to identify mentors to help habitually absent students get back to regularly attending school. The program says that frequent absences from school can be devastating to a child’s future. It further stated that the effects start early and spiral dramatically over time: children who are chronically absent in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are less likely to read on grade level by the third grade; students who can’t read at grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school; by high school, regular attendance is a better dropout indicator than test scores; and a student who is chronically absent in any year between the eighth and twelfth grade is seven times more likely to drop out of school. Unfortunately, many of these individuals become involved in crimes and are incarcerated.

Although, pupils need to be in regular school attendance in order to learn, disruptive students should not be allow to impede the education of the eager to learn pupils. Most school districts have a student code of conduct. It should be enforced.  Schools have alternatives (in-school suspension and alternative school) to reduce out of school suspensions and expulsions. Nevertheless, it is difficult to “regain control” of a school after the students have “gained control.”

The juvenile justice system should be the last alternative to improve a child’s school attendance.


Gerald Shirley