Mandatory attendance is key to student learning and performance so yes, schools should enforce the attendance policies. I would go a bit futher than 18, although I know it might get some folks upset, but, please, I beg you to indulge me this explanation. I will qualify this article by saying that for several years now, I have happily worked as a high school educator in an urban school district.
There is a huge problem with attendance and the schools seemingly just cannot get a firm grasp on it. No Child Left Behind legislation has very specific mandates for attendance which must be adhered to before schools start loosing out on points toward their AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). However, in a huge school with a huge problem with attendance, who is going to enforce it? As we know, there is no money for additional truancy officers so schools must make do with the truancy help that they have with the doubling and tripling of students with attendance problems.
Let’s say there are upwards of approximately 400 students absent in a day, out of 3,000. Who is going to do the leg work to find out what the problem is? Let’s even say that 300 of them are out legitimately – their parents know they are out and they are in fact, ill or have an appointment. What about the other 100 students who are chronically out? Their parents do or do not know they are out. Many of these students are skipping school. They may come to school on their busses as usual, but then, meet up with friends and decide that they just do not want to be in school. Period. There is not much that a teacher or the school can do at that point.
The problem is that many students are disengaged with school for whatever reason at a very early age. Many of these students have behavioral problems, are Special Education students, have drug and alcohol problems and a whole myriad of other reasons why they just do not want to be in school.
One of the biggest, from what I have seen is this: Students are ALLOWED to Quit SCHOOL when they are 16 years old! I find this outrageous! It is an archaic law that was developed when the manufacturing and textile corporations were flourishing and needed more and more skilled and unskilled laborers. That is no longer the case so, students who are quitting school are not able to get jobs as they were even 20 years ago. This is one way that schools need to begin enforcing the attendance policies.
Neverthless, the thought process for students who decide, at a very early age, that they are going to quit school, is this, “I am going to quit school when I am 16, so I don’t really care about coming here everyday”. That is a statement that I hear and have heard regularly for years. We should not be giving them that “out” at such a young and formative age. If the age was 18 when a student “could” quit school, we would see much better attendance. We would hope that students maturity would click at some point and they would realize the value of a free public education and that to get that education, they need to be in school.
I also want to take some of this off of the parents shoulders, although, again, I know some folks disagree with me here. From what I see on a regular basis, parents are working, usually the single parent mom or dad, or if both parents live together, then both are working. They are thinking that they go off to work and the kids go off to school and all is well. It is not until a teacher calls them in a week or two asking where the kid is that they are notified that he/she hasn’t been attending school. Yes, there are notificaiton processes in place, such as personal and automated phone calls home but they often do not reach their target audience. Parents are beside themselves. They know they need to do the extra work to make sure their child is in school but they also need to keep their job so the family can stay afloat. Tricky situation all around.
Bottom line is this. First, we need to amend that law whereas children can quit school when they are 16 years old. Second, for schools with attendance problems, more money needs to be made available in order to hire more truant officers to get out to these students and their families and get them back in school. Only then will we be able to reach more students, improve their performance and improve the direction that the country is going in.