John Butcher, writing on Cranky’s Blog, has been digging into Richmond Public School (RPS) data on unexcused absences and asking questions about the school district’s seeming negligence in enforcing state law. Of the city’s 26,000 students in 2016, he has found, some 28% had seven or more unexcused absences. As he summarized the findings in an email to me:
State law required that RPS either prosecute their parents or file CHIN (Child In Need of supervisor) petitions; RPS did so in only 226 of the 7,287 cases (3.1%). At the extreme, one student had 143 unexcused absences; another had 136. There’s no indication that RPS did anything about either.
Butcher is rightly concerned about what he terms “rampant, lawless truancy.” When a quarter of the school-age population has skipped school on more than seven occasions, we’re talking about a serious problem. It appears that the Richmond school system has lost control of its student population.
Bacon’s bottom line: What do we make of this finding? Is the pervasive truancy problem the fault of lax enforcement by Richmond school officials. Has the school-age population become unmanageable? Has parental authority over their children broken down to such an extent that it makes no sense to prosecute parents? These data alone don’t tell us.
However, the data do call into question the value of RPS high school diplomas. We can reasonably assume that a significantly higher percentage of high school students are skipping school than 2nd and 3rd graders. Thus we can reasonably assume that the percentage of high school truants (seven unexcused absences or more) in high schools is significantly higher than the 28% school-wide average. Yet the City of Richmond schools reported an 80.5% on-time graduation rate for its Class of 2016 cohort, according to Virginia Department of Education data. There is only one possible conclusion: Some chronic school-skippers are getting diplomas.
Here’s another question: What is the relationship between truancy and “acting up” in school? How many truants also are discipline problems, disrupting classrooms and making it difficult for other students to learn? I would conjecture that there is a high degree of overlap. The idea sounds perverse, but perhaps it’s a good thing that disruptive students are skipping school — when they’re on the streets, they’re making it easier for teachers to teach. Is it possible that school administrators are deliberately not trying to get them back into school? Or are they just overwhelmed with the magnitude of the job?
Butcher has done an excellent job of highlighting a critical issue facing Richmond schools (and many other school systems). But there’s a limit to what the data can tell us. We need enterprising reporters, citizens, or, heaven forbid, school board members to ask the tough questions and find out what’s really happening.
Update: Cranky keeps on digging into the truancy issue. “Last year, Richmond had eighteen attendance officers to deal with statutory requirements for 10,381 attendance plans, 8,502 conferences with parents, and 7,288 court filings. This year, they reduced the budget for truancy services. Can you spell “scofflaw”?”There are currently no comments highlighted.