Chronic absenteeism fundamental to schools’ failures
On the eve of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the John Marshall High School I taught at had an attendance rate of 80 percent. We knew we had a serious problem; students can’t learn if they are not in class. So, we made a major effort to address absenteeism, but it was simply impossible for our overburdened staff to make the systematic extra efforts necessary to get truancy under control.
Our problems grew much worse, however, when NCLB mandated that we dramatically raise attendance rates or face repercussions. As data-driven reformers should have known, high-challenge schools had to choose between a focus on the complex challenge of getting more students to come to school more often or the more doable task of just “juking the stats” and making sure absences disappeared from the district’s computer system.
Let me quickly get the following issue out of the way: The OKCPS responded to this maddeningly complicated dilemma like virtually every urban school system. While the district deserves criticism for playing statistical games to comply with test-driven reform, it didn’t create the output-driven policies that took low-performing inner-city schools and made them worse.