Thursday, May 17, 2007

Holy Cats Batman...There's Truancy in Hartford CT!

Sorry - but this will be a long post.. and it just has to be that way...

The Hartford Courant printed an article about "The Truancy Epidemic" in CT and how officials in Hartford are struggling to curb chronic absenteeism. Apparently every day about 2,000 kids skip school, and that represents about 10% of the total student enrollment.

Here are some snippets:
Adriana Reyes didn't feel safe at Hartford Public High School last year after girls beat her up in a bathroom, so she stopped going to school. She tried ninth grade again this year, but, distracted by drama in her friends' lives, she began skipping school. By March, she had racked up 28 unexcused absences -- the equivalent of nearly six weeks of school.
OK - so there is one reason.. kids are scared to go to school for fear of getting beat up. The top four reasons why kids are skipping school appear to be:
They don't feel safe at school.

Students who must walk to school think their route is dangerous.

Other walkers, many without suitable outerwear, find the trek too arduous on very cold or rainy days.

Teenage mothers don't have day care.
Aside from that, even the little ones are skipping school.
Nearly 9 percent kindergartners also were absent. Through January of this school year, 6.5 percent of kindergartners had been truant 20 or more days - the equivalent of a month or more of classes.
Educators are all upset because that kindergarten year is so important - it is no longer about "play". Well, maybe they ought to get a clue and make it about play so these kids will enjoy going. Most of what kids learn is done during play. Maybe they ought to be having some serious conversations about education with the parents and guardians of these kids.

Officials blame the fact that Hartford is a city with one of the nation's highest child poverty rates, and that efforts to curb truancy are complicated by a host of complex social problems. They say there is eroded parental supervision and that about one of every six kids have at least one parent in prison. Most households are headed by struggling, single mothers. Now, I won't dispute the fact that there is poverty and families may be in disarray..but last I checked we still have truancy laws for children enrolled in government schools, and I suspect they aren't being enforced. That is evident by this statement:
Truancy in kindergarten is the fault of parents, Hartford Police Chief Roberts said, and under state law parents can be arrested for not sending their children to school. "I don't want to arrest a parent for not sending a child to school, but that is a parent's responsibility, and parents will be held accountable," Roberts said.
Umm.. no it isn't a parent's responsibility to send a child to school.. it is a parent's responsibility to see that the child is educated (according to CGS 10-184). Of course there are many ways to accomplish that without government schooling. However, if a child is supposed to be in government school to get an education, then their parents ought to make sure that they attend, or disenroll them and do something else. (Although, now parents are being prevented by schools from disenrolling them as well, and that's a topic for an upcoming post!). I don't think these parents ought to be arrested, or reported to DCF, but I do think that truancy laws should be changed or removed from the lawbooks entirely. Maybe parents ought to be fined, or have their welfare benefits cut off, or be required to do community work, but not arrested and jailed. In light of the fact that truancy laws are being routinely misused by authorities to hassle people who remove their children from school to homeschool them (which is not a truancy issue), I think there is definite need for truancy reform including the way in which DCF handles allegations of educational neglect.

And yes, single parent households are challenging, but I know many single moms and dads who seem to get their kids educated no matter what, and that goes for inner city families as well.

Hartford spends over $13,000 per year to educate a child. It seems incredulous to me with all of the administrators and social workers and health care people in those schools, and all of the other social programs which these families have been made dependent on, that they still cannot seem to get their arms around this problem.

Here is what the article says has been done so far:
Educators, volunteers and police have stepped up initiatives to get children back into school, including truancy patrols, mentoring programs and interventions with parents. They have had limited success, but even some of those efforts are foiled by policies that clash.

As volunteer mentoring programs expand, school budget cuts are eliminating the jobs of people who track truancy. Police take children off the streets and deliver them to schools, only to have some suspended for skipping school in the first place. Rules that call for referring chronic truants to the courts are enforced irregularly.
This is so typical of the approach of government schooling..hit these folks over the head with the law and more compulsion, punish them with suspension from school or court and jail time. Why aren't they finding out what would make these kids come back? Why aren't they doing something to make education meaningful for these kids so they will want to come back? Why aren't they changing the school environment to demand safe and habitable schools so kids will have a decent environment to learn. Why aren't they making the curriculum engaging and worthwhile to these kids? It's been done before by people like Jaime Escalante and Roberta Guaspari, and many others. Just because someone is poor and has a hard family life does not mean they cannot get a decent education. Many people, in all walks of life, and in all historical time periods have been able to rise above it, and I do not see Hartford doing anything meaningful to help people to do that. Instead, they either hit them over the head with legalities or make them more dependent on the system for help, so they cannot do anything for themselves nor are they motivated to do so.

As for the issue of teenage pregnancy... that's a social problem that have not been easy to solve especially with Pop Culture in the USA the way it is. Educators decry the fact that in Hartford nearly 400 teenage girls had babies in 2005, and that most spots in a day-care programs at one high school are taken by children of adults, not teenage mothers. Well, maybe they ought to think of a different way to approach this problem. Maybe they ought to allow these girls to do coursework at home or do online courses with a loaned home computer. Maybe they ought to get all these girls together and run a co-op daycare so they all take turns watching each others kids and doing classes. And where are the fathers? Why aren't they involved in this?

Oh and yes, let's not forget getting the legislature involved in this "crisis". Of course the remedy is to have them throw more tax money at the problem. They haven't done anything to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing programs, which apparently are not working, and they haven't done anything to change the way they do things - yet they want to spend more money on these programs.
Ya gotta love Government solutions!

So with the $13,000 per student that Hartford spends, this is what they get for their money:

- A staggering dropout rate: just 29 percent of Hartford freshmen graduate. And experts say high school truancy can be traced back to kindergarten.

- Last spring, only 30 percent of Hartford third-graders were proficient in reading; only 29 percent of ninth-graders were reading at grade level.

The "experts" at the Center for Children's Advocacy, part of the University of Connecticut Law School, have come to the brilliant conclusion that academic deficiency in high school was consistently linked to poor attendance in lower grades.
Whodathunkit? They needed a whole study of 91 chronically truant high school students and found that 26 percent showed patterns of absenteeism as early as kindergarten and first grade; one student, by eighth grade, had missed the equivalent of more than two years of school; and 84 percent tested far below their grade levels on Connecticut Mastery Tests in grades 4, 6 and 8.

No great surprise to me.

Hartford police and children's advocates are launching programs aimed at returning youngsters to school and keeping them there. After he was appointed last year, Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said getting kids back in school was his top priority. But locating hard-to-find children - most of them failing - and returning them to school has had limited success. Of 99 children police had brought back to school by April this year, about half of them now attend regularly, Roberts said. He has directed patrol officers to pick up children on the streets and take them to school. Two full-time detectives and two school resource officers are assigned to visit the homes of habitual truants to investigate and point families to the help they need to get kids back in school.
Well, that's no great surprise to me either...
Hey Chief Roberts..They don't want to be there!!!!
They probably hate your schools and find them useless and mind dumbing.
Why don't you give them something meaningful to do? How about jobs or community work with some education thrown in? How about figuring out what these kids happen to do well and then feed those strengths? Maybe you could even show them how to start their own businesses that don't involve street drugs! Get some community leaders to mentor a few of these kids! Do SOMETHING meaningful to make the schools and the walk to schools safe! A bigger question is why are highly trained, and highly compensated, Hartford Police playing round-up crew for the schools? Don't they have better things to do? The school perhaps should hire its own truancy patrol if this is such a chronic issue.

There seems to be some progress made in some areas - so they say.
One volunteer program making strides is the Truancy Court Prevention Project, which monitors attendance, provides case managers for chronic truants, and informal, in-school talks between students and judges from state courts. At a recent truancy court session at Quirk Middle School, Superior Court Judge E. Curtissa R. Cofield, looking commanding in her judge's robe, mixed hugs and empathy with instructions. She told some students to keep an accounting of why they missed school and what they did with their time. She told them to join after-school programs.
Yeah, you could get a judge to speak to the kids authoritatively.. but I think what really matters is to get academic programs the kids will be challenged with and enjoy doing. Maybe have them get involved with community leaders and positive role models. Perhaps we should have every judge take a kid and give them an internship clerking or doing some sort of office work in lieu of going to school for a time.

Hartford's biggest problem is exemplified in this:
One boy, whose father is "mostly in jail," is afraid to walk home from school because he was attacked. He is getting F's in math and science and a D in reading. What he enjoys, he said, is playing video games.
The message again is make the walk to school safe. If that can't be done then give the kid something worthwhile to do online via computer. If a kid can invest a lot of time and concentration on video games then why can he not do that with his studies? Obviously they are not capitalizing on something, because surely this child can concentrate and can reach high levels doing that. They need to funnel that talent into something more meaningful. But it appears no one wants to take the time to do that one-on-one with a kid.

Then you have these situations:
One boy said that he sleeps in class because he struggles with reading. He skipped science often, he said, because his teacher hurt his feelings by passing out tests to other students without giving one to him. "I feel like I'm invisible - like a ghost,". "I feel like I'm a nobody."
And they wonder why these kids do not want to engage in education? Holy crow.. one doesn't need a fancy education degree to figure this one out. But hey... let's just throw more tax money at him.

I'll say that I don't propose to know all of the answers to solving this huge education and social problem .. but I have a few good ideas of where to start.

The government school system has failed these kids miserably
. There is no excuse for it. It isn't just because they are poor and have tough lives. It isn't because there isn't enough money to solve the problems. It isn't because they don't have 5 extra case workers or truant officers. It is because these kids haven't been given a real reason to want to learn. They haven't been shown that school is giving them something that they can really use. They find government school to be a useless waste of time and irrelevant in their lives. These kids need to have a say in their own education and to be able to set healthy goals for themselves. They are obviously sick of everyone (schools, social workers, police, doctors, etc.) cramming stuff down their throats, and telling them what is good for them. They need to be able to be heard and not be treated as if they were "invisible" or like a "nobody". They need to be given workable solutions, not jail time and continual punishment. And they need to know that it isn't cool be be involved with drugs and crime, no matter how much money they can make from it. The reason I can say this is because the same "poor and disadvantaged" inner city kids who attend charter schools are flourishing - they have people there who lay down the rules and advocate for the kids, who do not hand out favors but make kids work for favors. They give them challenges to aspire to. They give them structure and purpose. They give them encouragement and hope and a way out of the slavery of poverty. They demand higher performance. With achievement comes self esteem, and with self esteem comes confidence and further achievement. That's the kind of vicious circle these kids in Hartford need to be involved in, but first they need to make their schools safe.