Why Missing School Matters
Missing school matters, for obvious reasons. The first and most compelling, is that if kids don’t learn to show up, it will impact their ability to successfully shape the course of their lives, and showing up for life is a learned skill. Central Texas students (and this number shocked me!) miss 2.4 MILLION days of school each academic year, costing a loss of more than $34 million dollars annually for our schools. Children suffer academically when they aren’t in class. Chronic absence is an indicator for future drop out rates. Individual classrooms are affected by absence as students miss participation in key elements of their learning. So why do kids miss so much school?
According to Communications Director, Rick L’Amie of the E3 Alliance, when kids were asked why they missed so much school, 49% of them said, it’s boring. At MAP, we think there’s more to it than that. We work with at-risk and disenfranchised youth on a daily basis, and in our work we explore a lot of serious life circumstances and issues with these kids. What I find is that our kids (and I suspect many are like them) often find it difficult to articulate the challenges they face in their daily lives. A 10 year old who misses school because her older brother got in a fight with a neighbor’s kid across the street and the fight led to retaliation which resulted in her house getting burned down and the family having to flee the neighborhood in fear, is not going to verbalize the complexity of that situation. It’s easy to say, I’m bored. But what that kid is also saying is, nothing I’m learning here feels relevant to my life experience.
REPORT: School Exclusionary Discipline Policies Expensive, Ineffective
A new report, Breaking Rules, Breaking Budgets: Cost of Exclusionary Discipline in 11 Texas School Districts, by nonprofit Texas Appleseed shares the negative impacts of the exclusionary disciplinary methods in Texas schools. The study surveyed 11 school districts to discover the cost-benefit ratio of exclusionary discipline and how it affects students and communities. Exclusionary discipline includes out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to alternative education programs which leads to high human and financial costs.
In 2011, the Council of State Governments released a groundbreaking report documenting the negative impacts suspension and expulsion have on students in Texas. With many schools utilizing discretionary sentencing for minor violations, the high costs and negative impacts of exclusionary discipline are hindering the Texas public school system.
Excessive state money is being spent on out-of-school suspensions and school security rather than social work services. With 75% of violations strictly school code violations, the annual cost to educate one student through exclusionary discipline methods is three times the average cost of educating a student in the regular classroom.
The Texas Appleseed report gives the following recommendations to help reduce the human and financial costs of exclusionary discipline:
California Legislation Targets School Discipline
California Governor Jerry Brown has signed two bills that seek to reform school discipline in California schools.
The first, Assembly Bill 1729, introduces intervening means of behavior correction prior to suspension or expulsion. Such behavior correction could include tiered interventions that occur during the school day, a parent-teacher conference, a restorative justice program, or an after-school program focusing on positive activities and behaviors.
The second, Assembly Bill 2537, clarifies that over-the-counter medication and toy guns in schools do not immediately trigger zero-tolerance penalties. School administrators may still make such a determination, but it is no longer automatic. This permits some degree of case-by-case analysis into an individual student’s behavior and intent.
NC Teens, Police, Community Join Forces to Stop Bullying Epidemic
Our small community has been deeply affected by bullying. Last year, two teenage girls committed suicide after being bullied. This school year, we’ve already had five students bring weapons to school to protect themselves from bullies. And two out of three students referred to our Teen Court program for simple assault, simple affray or disorderly conduct are there because of bullying-related incidents.
Recognizing the need to address bullying in schools, our young people, police officers and community members decided to take a stand by creating a short movie. The movie was written and acted by students, many of whom have been involved in bullying.
Ineffective School Discipline Policies Threaten Public Safety
Law enforcement leaders recently banded together to highlight an important – but perhaps surprising –issue in public safety: school discipline.
San Bernardino County, CA District Attorney Michael Ramos, Sheriff Keith Royal, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk, and the president of the California Police Chiefs Association all recently gathered in California to highlight ineffective school discipline policies that actually detract from public safety.
The officials noted that suspending and expelling students for minor offenses increases the number of youths out of the supervised school environment and on the streets, where they are far more likely to engage in troublemaking or even criminal behavior. The law enforcement coalition further pointed out the link between suspensions and dropping out of school, impacting both crime rates and educational gains.
The Sheriffs, Police Chiefs, and District Attorney spoke out after a report released by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids found high rates of suspension for low-level misbehavior. The group contrasted these poor outcomes with the positive gains and cost savings possible with alternative, more traditional school discipline measures which often involve restorative justice.
Stop Bullying by Promoting Pro-Social Skills on the Playground
For too many children, violence in the news, on television, on the Internet and even just beyond the schoolyard fences, is a part of their daily lives. The last thing we need is for our children to be exposed to violence in school. Unfortunately, violence does occur in schools every day, in the form of bullying. Bullying is defined as the “intentional aggressive behavior that tips the balance of power and is often repeated over time.”And according to the National School Climate Center, every seven minutes a child is bullied on a school playground.
When bullying, teasing and name-calling are present on a school campus, it contributes to an environment in which students’ physical and social-emotional safety is at risk. It is the responsibility of the school, and in the best interest of the grown-ups working there, to create safe communities that ultimately help contribute to learning.
The good news is that there is a way to prevent bullying, one that focuses on recess and extends into the classroom. At Playworks, we have been promoting safe, healthy play on schoolyards for the past 16 years. A recent study by Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University showed that Playworks schools not only prevent bullying, but increase students’ feeling of safety and inclusion.
Back to School Survey: Teens' Take on Drugs, Alcohol in Schools
A survey of over 1000 12 to 17-year-olds across the United States revealed the drastically high rate at which schools are becoming increasingly “drug infected” as well as the easy accessibility that teens have to drugs. The “Back to School Survey”, published by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia), also covers teens’ perspectives on their attitudes toward drugs and alcohol and their parents’ opinions on drug and alcohol use, as well as the impact that drug and alcohol related images have on their peers.
The 2012 report stated that 60% of students reported that their schools are drug infected, meaning that drugs are used, kept or sold on school premises. Nearly 97% percent of students say that they have friends who use drugs or alcohol and nearly all students questioned said that they knew students who used while at school. Students estimated about 1 in 5 of their classmates are using drugs or alcohol while at school. This trend of drug infected schools isn’t specific to public schools. The gap between drug infected public and private schools has continually narrowed since the survey began in the early 1990s. In 2012, 54%, an increase of 50% from 2011, of students who attend private schools reported that their schools were drug infected.
Targeting School Truancy Outside of the Juvenile Justice System
Beginning this week, students in Los Angeles’ Unified School District who are truant three times or more will no longer be automatically ticketed and sent to court.
Instead, the youth will first be sent to a counselor at a Youth WorkForce Center, who will be tasked with figuring out what is causing the truancy in the first place. The counselor will then seek to provide the tools to fix the problem, and hopefully increase the number of kids who graduate rather than drop out.
Under the previous policy, three truancy violations resulted in a ticket, which required the youth to appear in court with his or her parent, and pay a hefty fine. This resulted in an estimated 10,000 tickets each school year.
School officials and court administrators are hoping this policy will reduce court costs and permit more efficient use of judicial resources, as well as ensure truancy is better addressed in Los Angeles.
Promise Unfulfilled: Juvenile Justice in America
In partnership with several juvenile justice advocates around the country, Cathryn Crawford, a national expert in juvenile and criminal justice, has edited a new book entitled "Promise Unfulfilled: Juvenile Justice in America" (IDEA 2012).
Through a combination of original and reprinted articles written by academics, lawyers, and advocates, “Promise Unfulfilled” addresses the problems with designing and implementing effective systems to deal with children in conflict with the law, and it describes various challenges children in the juvenile justice system face and offers suggestions for reform.
The authors include James Bell, Founder and Director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, who wrote on the over-incarceration of youth of color; Jacqueline Bullard, an appellate defender in Illinois, who wrote on best interest versus expressed interest representation of minors in delinquency court; and Neelum Arya (Barry Law, Campaign for Youth Justice) who wrote on state legislative victories from 2005-2010 in the area of removing youth from the adult criminal justice system. I have a chapter that is adapted from my article, Culture Clash: The Challenge of Lawyering Across Difference in Juvenile Court, 62 Rutgers L. Rev. 959 (2010). There are also chapters on the school-to-prison pipeline, addressing the mental health needs of juveniles, and best practices for working with girls in the delinquency system.
The Dramatic Effects of Chronic Absenteeism
You have to be in school to do well in school. This is the primary takeaway from the recently released report, titled "The Importance of Being There: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation's Public Schools," authored by Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes. Balfanz and Byrnes estimate that between 5 and 7.5 million students are not attending school regularly. This means up to 7.5 million students miss ten percent or more of the school year or missed over a month of school days during the previous school year.
The data collected in this report shows that one group in particular is more vulnerable to becoming chronically absent. While gender and location did not play substantial roles in the rates of chronic absenteeism, poverty impacted chronic absenteeism more than any other characteristic. Not only are children living in poverty the most likely students to become chronically absent, but those are also the children who benefit most from education, as education is one of the most effective strategies to provide a path out of poverty.