Truancy Prevention as a long term investment for at-risk youth

There is an alarming trend of increased truancy in America’s schools. Truancy is defined as excessive, unexcused absences from school. Typically, a student who misses 10 or more unexcused days is considered truant by legal definition. However, different states and school systems have different measures for truancy. In some U.S. cities, absentee rates are as high as 30% among the student population. Experts agree that this truancy trend is critical because truancy is an early warning indicator for additional problems and serves as a gateway to high-risk behavior, such as drug use, gang membership, and crime. Truancy predicts 97% of first time drug users. Students who demonstrate truant behavior are seven times more likely to be arrested than the general teenage population. A United States Department of Justice report indicates that 80% of prison inmates were at one time truants. The number of juvenile offenders who started out as truants is estimated at 95%.Truancy Prevention

Truant females have a much higher probability of getting pregnant in their teen years. Approximately 1,000,000 females get pregnant each year before the age of 20. One third of these women will never finish high school. Approximately, 79% are unmarried and half will end up on welfare. The children of these teen mothers have a significantly higher likelihood to also be truants and drop-outs, as well as teen mothers themselves.

Truancy causes students to fall behind in their studies and often leads to retention. A student who is held back between kindergarten and fourth grade is five times more likely to drop out of school. By sixth grade, an increase in absences can predict failing grades and potentially repeating a grade by middle school. Sixth graders who do not attend school regularly have an increased probability of failing math or English. These students have a 10% chance of graduating on time and a 20% chance of graduating a year later. Students who repeated a grade in middle school were 11 times more likely to drop out. A student that has repeated two grade levels is 90% more likely to drop out of high school. The ninth grade is a critical predictor of drop out behavior. If a student is held back by ninth grade or fails to progress on to tenth grade on time, the chances of that student dropping out are very high. Overall, 80% of school drop-outs were chronically truant during the year they dropped out. Therefore, we know that any drop-out prevention program must include an early remediation of truant behavior.

The cost of truancy to society is significant in the long run if the individual proceeds with high-risk behavior. A drug abuser costs society on average $370,000 – $970,000. A high school drop-out costs society $243,000 – $388,000, and an individual who leads a life of crime costs society $1.3 – $1.5 million dollars. These costs can range from welfare benefits, added health care costs, and costs to incarcerate these individuals. It seems clear that spending money up front to prevent truancy is a good investment in the student’s future and saves money in the long run for society.

Truancy can be caused by many factors: a lack of interest, fear of violence at school, lack of parental supervision or support, drug and alcohol abuse, or alienation from school. The problems are complex and varied, but often a common theme among truants is the challenge of facing life problems and stress.

Within the U.S. public school system, success is often measured by how many students go on to post-secondary institutions. However, this measurement does not take into account the 45% of college students who never finish their degree. The pattern in our society of increasing numbers of truants extends to post-secondary drop-outs.

Each of these students share a common root issue – they lack critical life skills that would have prepared them for successfully completing goals, and making good decisions.

It would seem a more successful indicator would be the measurement of student abilities to master basic life skills. While it is critical that a student understand reading, writing, and arithmetic, they also need abilities to cope with stress, problem solving skills, communication skills, and budgeting and saving skills, among other useful abilities to function successfully in life. However, basic life skills are rarely taught in school. If at-risk students were identified early on and provided additional support and skill sets to cope with their life challenges, they would have more tools at their disposal to help them avoid behaviors detrimental to their future.

These life skills need to be integrated into school curriculum and designed to significantly reduce truancy and drop-out rates. Many school districts indicate they do not have time to add more courses to their curriculum when they can barely keep up with the current standards. Furthermore, school budgets often do not allow for the hiring of additional faculty to teach such programs. This is where the online training solution fits in perfectly.

An online life skills course does not require more staff and can be accomplished by students in their off time outside of the regular school day. Students can take courses at their own pace so that it does not interfere with their regular school work.

The transient nature of students these days further exacerbates attendance issues. Students need flexible instructional strategies that fit a mobile lifestyle. The ability of students to have a learner centric model of self-regulated instruction is beneficial for those students who move often. Online learning is one solution that supports these objectives.

Some skills will always need to be taught in a classroom or laboratory setting. Therefore, life skills development still needs to be integrated into the standard classroom curriculum. However, the basic fundamental knowledge can be easily taught online while providing repetition and review in the classroom.

No one solution will solve the truancy issue in American schools. However, clearly a disturbing trend is occurring that needs to be addressed at its root cause. Providing life skills to students early on along with other student engagement strategies will help to reduce truancy and ultimately improve the life of many struggling students. Reducing truancy reduces school drop-outs and improves the overall education level of the country. This fact improves our global competitiveness and reduces costs on the American economy.

Yoder, Steve; Why America’s College Students Don’t Graduate, The Fiscal Times, December 2011. http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2011/12/19/Why-Americas-College-Students-Dont-Graduate

British Schools Teaching Life Skills, UPI, January 2009 http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/01/17/British-schools-teaching-life-skills/UPI-76791232225252/

Life Skills Education For Children and Adolescents in Schools, World Health Organization: Division of Mental Health and Prevention of Substance Abuse, Geneva, 1997. http://www.asksource.info/pdf/31181_lifeskillsed_1994.pdf

Williams, Mari-Jane; Life skills all teens should have before graduating from high school, The Washington Post, January 2013. http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-01-23/lifestyle/36496316_1_debit-card-teens-life-skills

Lasater, Lane Ph.D.; Comprehensive Truancy Prevention Project, Character Development Systems LLC

Bost, Loujeania Ph.D. ; The Impact of Policies and Procedures on Dropout and School Completion, National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities, Clemson University, Clemson SC http://www.doe.virginia.gov/support/prevention/dropout_truancy/resources/impact_policies_procedures.pdf

When Girls Don’t Graduate We All Fail: A Call to Improve High School Graduation Rates for Girls, National Women’s Law Center, Washington DC, 2007 http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/when_girls_dont_graduate.pdf

Statistics on Teen Pregnancy, California Rural Indian Health Board, Sacramento, CA http://crihb.org/files/statistic_on_teen_pregnancy.pdf

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Posted in At-Risk Youth, Education, Truancy by Adam Chavers at October 22nd, 2013.

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