Chicago Public Schools (CPS) recently received a failing grade for attendance. According to the study, one in eight students (about 32,000 pupils) missed four or more weeks of elementary school. That's missing about 20 days in a 180 day school calendar.
What brings this story to the headlines is that attendance is tied to federal funding for schools. If CPS were to get its attendance rates up just one percent, it would receive an additional nine million dollars in funding.
Do the people withholding the funds realize that the schools that struggle the most with truancy are located in poorer areas (especially the south and southwest sides of Chicago), and that withholding funds is only making the problem worse? Poverty is linked to high levels of absenteeism. It's an unstable life being poor, and that instability transfers over to the students' lives at school.
If both parents have to work, but there is a baby sister or brother that can't stay alone at home and the parents can't find a babysitter because everyone else is working, that means a CPS student has to stay home to help take care of his or her younger sibling.
If a family is being evicted and the sheriff is at the apartment putting their belongings on the street, there's another CPS student who isn't going to school for a couple days at the minimum.
If a child is sick and the family does not have healthcare, that cold/flu isn't going to be treated quickly at the doctor's office, but instead with a couple days rest at home.
If a child lives too far to walk to the school during a brutal Chicago winter, but the family does not have money to spare for gas or even bus fare, that's another CPS child not going to school.
The study points out that the "detachment" from school starts when kids are absent too often from kindergarten. That's poverty that stops them from going to school in kindergarten and the pattern just keeps building onto itself. Once the kid is taught that going to school isn't a big deal, an undesired but very real consequence of being poor, it follows that kid throughout his or her education.
The absenteeism from school that has been reinforced due to conditions out of students' control, is aggravated by the independence that high school allows them. The kids who couldn't go to school because they were poor can now choose whether or not they want to go to school, and they are more likely to choose what they know, not going at all.
The truancy in high school stems from how poverty stopped students from going to elementary school when they were little. Yet, somehow in the minds of politicians and government officials, poverty has little or nothing to do with the high levels of absenteeism and truancy in schools. If poverty stops kids from going to school, and going to school means success. Then poverty is what stops kids from being successful. If we want to change American education and its policies, we need to change the conversations we are having about it, and make poverty the center of the debate.
Those examples I came up with to explain various reasons for absenteeism are all things my friends have experienced that stopped them from going to school. These situations are real. The people are real. The problems are real. Let's have a real conversation about it.
Check out my other posts on education: