Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Truancy


See candidate stances on zoning update, results on truancy

After a week off, Let's Choose DC this week asked the candidates for their positions on DC's zoning update proposalsremoving parking minimums, allowing accessory dwellings, and corner stores. We also have the results of your votes on their responses on school truancy.

Results from question 8, truancy

Elissa Silverman* and Matt Frumin continued their pattern of close finishes for the top two spots, with Silverman edging out a narrow win for the second question in a row in the percentage of voters giving her response a positive score. However, she also garnered slightly more votes for "very unpersuasive" than Frumin, meaning her response garnered more strong feelings pro and con.

Patrick Mara, Anita Bonds, and Michael Brown did not participate.

This week's question covers the controversial elements of the zoning update: fewer parking minimums, accessory dwellings, and corner stores. We asked the candidates if they support these proposals; Silverman expressed some trepidation about the parking minimums at a debate in late February, and we wanted to hear directly from the candidates on this issue.

We heard from all of the canidates except Bonds and Mara. You can vote until Monday night, March 18.

Note: We have regularly reached out to District policy advocates, former candidates, and other leaders (as well as our readers broadly) to encourage people to write guest posts. Elissa Silverman took us up on that invitation on 4 occasions in 2011 and 2012.


Tackling truancy, part 1: Must we prosecute parents?

How can the students learn what they must, if they aren't coming to school when they must? Councilmember David Catania, chair of the newly-resurrected education committee has been asking this question. He has proposed prosecuting parents whose kids miss school. Is that the right approach? Whether it is or not, none else have suggested any alternative.

Photo by Renato Ganoza on Flickr.

In retrospect, one conspicuous question is, why hasn't this issue gotten more attention before? Truancy has been treated heretofore as an unpleasant fact of life; some children will refuse to come to school regularly in any community. As they will probably drop out eventually, why spend significant resources to coerce them to attend school?

This attitude derives from a singularly unsound assumption that the District's truancy rate is roughly comparable with similar communities, and that this rate is essentially immutable without spitpolishing the Augean stables. By one measure, DC's truancy rate is five times the national average.

Chronic truancy, which DC defines a student missing more than 21 school daysa full month's classeswithout documented excuse, is rampant.

Six high schools have chronic truancy rates over 30%, according to DCPS. The Urban Institute has different numbers, and suggests that seven high schools have rates over 40% with Anacostia high reaching 66%.

These rates strongly correlate with test scores, which suggests that overall educational reform cannot be successful without addressing this issue.

Graph from the DC council.

Naturally, the effects of truancy don't end there.

  1. This may seem obvious, but children who have no history of truancy have a heightened probability of becoming chronic truants if their school has a high rate of truancy.
  2. Truants are far more likely to drop out of school before graduation.
  3. Before they do, they will test poorly; schools with high truancy rates manifest low test scores.
  4. Criminals are far more likely to have been truants.
  5. As a result of #3 and #4, truants are far more likely to have significant spells of unemployment after they reach adulthood.
Catania offers a possible solution; is it the right one?

Catania has proposed a bill to address this issue by strictly enforcing penalties for parents, should their children repeatedly be absent.

The current law has penalties, too. Should a child miss two or more days of class unexcused, his or her parents are subject under current law to a $100 fine and up to (!) 5 days in jail. This penalty is almost entirely unenforced.

Catana's bill would soften the criteria, levying penalties only after 10 days unexcused per year. However, should the child miss 20 or more days, the bill would make it mandatory to prosecute the parents. The penalties would initially only include community service and/or parenting classes, but could include jail time if the parents fail to complete their service. Parents would be able to avoid prosecution only by requesting parenting aid from Child Services.

Is punishing parents appropriate? Catania notes that there is little else to do. Directly punishing the student, through in-school or home suspension, only increases the likelihood of further truancy, and no other penalty for students has much salience.

Is there any other alternative?

The opponents of this billand there are manyargue that holding (often working) parents responsible for their children's attendance is unfair, and criminalizes parental difficulties rather than assisting with them. They further allege that this essentially targets the poor, as it there is a clear link between parental socioeconomic status and a child's propensity to be truant.

What they do not articulate, beyond general exhortations for better schools, is how to address the problem. At a recent hearing before the DC Council on the subject of truancy, many witnesses raised those objections to the proposal, but beyond repeated expressions of frustration from witnesses and councilmembers, none present articulated any coherent alternatives.

Perhaps Catania's bill is the best option available to address this problem. Or, perhaps it over-simplifies the issue. To think about the issue, first we must analyze a more fundamental question: Why do children become chronic truants? We'll look at that in the next part of this series.


Let's Choose tackles school truancy this week

DC might criminally charge parents whose kids miss school. Is that the right approach? What else should DC do about truancy? This week, Let's Choose DC asked the at-large candidates this question:

Photo by matthileo on Flickr.
Last year DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said that DC schools are suffering from a "truancy crisis." The DC Council is now debating a bill that would increase penalties on parents for kids who chronically miss school. Should parents be held to account for when their kids miss school? How can DC ensure that students attend school consistently?

Let's Choose DC is a partnership between Greater Greater Washington, DCist, and PoPville which aims to educate voters about candidates' positions for the April 23 race for DC Council at-large. This week, we got responses from Matthew Frumin, Perry Redd, John Settles, Elissa Silverman, and Paul Zukerberg.

John Settles has been removed from the ballot after a successful challenge to his nominating petition signatures left him short of the required number. Paul Zukerberg also faced a challenge, but survived; he denounced the process and competitor Elissa Silverman, whose supporter filed both challenges.

Sadly, Patrick Mara (who serves on the State Board of Education and has made education a significant part of his platform), Anita Bonds, and Michael Brown did not respond to the question this week.

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