Using technology to tackle truancy

Wed, 2013-11-27 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

A John Hopkins University researcher has raised the alarm on truancy after spending years tracking why a million students drop out of school in the U.S. every year. What Bob Balfanz discovered, according to a report in the Seattle Times, was that missing just a few days of school in sixth grade can predict whether a child will graduate from high school.

"Wherever we’ve looked, we’ve seen a clear relationship between missing a month of school and negative educational outcomes later," Balfanz said in the Times report. "That has been proven for all kids."

The flip side is that targeting attendance can improve academic performance and reduce dropout rates, as two middle schools in Seattle have demonstrated, according to the Times.

The Des Moines Register, meanwhile, reviewed attendance data for city schools and found in 2012-13 nearly one in five Des Moines high school students were chronically absent. That translates into at least 18 absences – equivalent to 10% of the school year.

The Register points to national research suggesting students who miss 18 or more days of school, whether the absences are excused or not, are more apt to struggle academically and are more likely to drop out of school.

And it's cumulative. The Register article cites research indicating a kindergartner who misses more than 10 percent of classes will be less likely to be a proficient reader by the end of third grade – and reading is a key to future success in school.

Now Des Moines educators are paying more attention to attendance data and getting computer alerts about absenteeism that triggers a call or visit to the student's home.

High dropout rates have a wider impact than some might imagine. Jamie Gilley, the Des Moines district’s director of Learning Services told the Register: “We know that when kids drop out, that costs the taxpayer about $1 million in revenue a year, whether that be what we’re paying for (in social services) or from what we’re losing in the tax base.”

Now a Pensacola, Florida company, citing truancy rates as high as 30% in some U.S. cities, has released a new online program aimed at truancy prevention.

Lifetime Training Solutions, a division of Smart Horizons, says the program aims to re-engage at-risk youths by providing critical life skills and career readiness training to help them handle the challenges they face on a daily basis.

"While it is apparent that no one program will solve the truancy issue, our highly effective online training curriculum can be a useful tool in providing critical life skills for at-risk youth, afterschool programs, truancy prevention education, career readiness and dropout recovery efforts," said Steve Samaha, Director of Lifetime Training Solutions. 

He also says that many school districts would love to add more life skills to their curriculum, but lack the time to add more courses or the money for additional faculty to teach them. 

Read an IBM case study on this topic:
Hamilton County Dept. of Education: Deeper student insights leave a deep impact


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

Connect with #compassionatecities…
See all the latest Compassionate Cities headlines
Follow Managing Director @Philip_Bane on Twitter
Join us on Facebook
Share your insights in our LinkedIn discussion group