Solving Oregon Absenteeism is Step One for Any School Reform

School absenteeism is the first and primary issue in improving Oregon student performance: how can children learn if they aren’t present in class?
Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, is promoting House Bill 2657 which would link school funding to attendance rather than head count. Other representatives are not happy with this solution, as reported by the Oregonian, even though funding by attendance appears to be the norm in many other states where it ensures that schools make an effort to better police attendance –

Students who come from low-income homes are most likely to miss a lot of school, so schools in poor communities would be harmed, and family factors outside of schools’ control contribute to absenteeism, said Portland Democrat Lew Frederick and Salem Republican Jodi Hack.

Schools need more money and more support, not a hammer hanging over them that they will lose funding if they don’t fix high rates of chronic absenteeism, they said.

While these two representatives have a point, they also suggest the most obvious solution in addition to the funding solution. The funding solution provides motivation to individual schools to allocate staff time to ensuring higher attendance rates.

That’s only half the solution. Schools must be motivated to ensure high levels of attendance, but they cannot succeed without parental help.

The obvious solution in addition to this, is to penalize parents, guardians and directly, emancipated teens for unexcused absences.  One way to do this is to establish a graduated set of conditions that begins with any unexcused absences.

First, establish a state wide definition of an unexcused absence. A student with any unexcused absence during a semester is placed on a watch list, and remains on the list until they have a semester without any unexcused absences.

A second and subsequent unexcused absence during a term requires a parent-student meeting within three days to avoid a misdemeanor ticket of $100; if at any time after the greater of three unexcused absences during the term or 5% of the term duration, the parent will be brought up on charges according to Oregon State Law, AND be subject to arrest until any outstanding tickets are paid.  For good measure, this should apply to any outstanding municipal tickets. But lets give the parent the option of allowing the absent child to do the time instead.

Lew Frederick and Jodi Hack have it wrong – poor communities especially need both hammers, and more so than other communities. Poor communities either have at home parents who should be spending the time on ensuring their children are in school, as well as parents who are working multiple, low earning jobs and therefore need an extra measure of motivation – and a penalty they can also pass on to the absent child.

References

Solving Oregon’s chronic absenteeism problem: Would financial incentives motivate schools or punish students?

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