|July 28, 1996||
Press Contact: Sabrina Miller|
Chicago Public Schools students find ways to be truanteven when in school
When Malik, who attends Chicagos public schools, was in 8th grade, he had big goals for high school: to be on the basketball team and to be valedictorian. Now he spends most of his school hours in the lunchroom, playing spades. The only class hes passing, or attending regularly, is geometry, where the teacher wanted us in class and helps you really want to learn.
A new University of Chicago study shows that high school truancy efforts often miss students like Malik (whose name has been changed) who go to school. The study, by Melissa Roderick, Assistant Professor at the Universitys School of Social Service Administration, argues that school efforts to improve attendance need to look more broadly at how truancy occurs, and the many ways students can be absent. When considering class skipping and inconsistent attendance, almost two thirds of ninth graders miss two or more weeks of instruction in a major subject by the end of the year, Roderick says.
The University of Chicago study, published with assistance from the Consortium on Chicago School Research, is titled, "Habits Hard to Break: A New Look at Truancy in Chicagos High Schools. The analysis of student records in the ninth-grade class of 1995-96 shows:
This approach misses students who come to school and then skip classes or those who mix inconsistent attendance with course skippinga group that makes up a high proportion of truant students, Roderick says. And yet, these are the students who are easiest to help through preventiongetting students off on the right foot and taking care of business within our buildings so that students know that cutting is not acceptable. What we find in schools that have made progress on truancy is that they create strong and positive learning environments.
A successful program to reduce truancy today requires: developing basic infrastructures in high schools that provide timely information on when students cut class; providing smaller, more personalized environments where teachers can work closely together, can get to know a student and establish norms; plus timely follow-up with a student so they dont get caught in a downward spiral.
Cutting is easy in large high schools without adult monitoring, strong school cultures or orderly school environments, says Roderick. Not going to school or cutting classes are both vicious cycles.
Her study also suggests that schools also must move away from thinking of truancy as a delinquency problem solved by punishment. Too often, these punishments dont deal with the underlying problem and actually make them worse. Roderick argues that a better approach maximizes learning and minimizes time outside of the classroomsuch as requiring students to make up homework after school for a missed class rather than in-school or out-of-school suspensions.
A student may not go to class initially because she doesnt like the teacher, is having academic difficulty, her friends pressure her to stay at lunch, or she just didnt do the homework for the day, Roderick says. Without an immediate reaction from school staff or other adults, cutting becomes an option rather than facing that teacher or making up homework. Eventually, when a student returns to class, she realizes that she is very far behind.
Rodericks research team visited many high schools around the city that were making progress reducing truancy. Some are profiled in the report. The study looked at full-day absences as reported on students transcripts, and class cutting according to school records.
Roderick offers three major themes and specific recommendations for solving the problems:
As school reform progresses in CPS, there is great opportunity to improve each high schools learning environment and increase schools ability to address attendance problems, Roderick says.
High schools need to take a more proactive stance in identifying student problems and promoting needed service integration in school communities," Roderick says. Such developments are the essential spirit of 1988 reformcommunity members working together to advance opportunities for all of our children.
The study, published by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, is part of an ongoing study of Chicago Public High Schools. The research is supported in part by The Steans Family Foundation, The Mcdougal Family Foundation, The Center for Research of the Education of Students Placed at Risk, The Spencer Foundation and Chicago Public Schools.
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