Why Parents Need to Monitor Skipping School

By Michele Molnar — August 29, 2012 4 min read
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Students who regularly cut classes and skip school say their parents are largely unaware of their failure to attend school, according to “Skipping to Nowhere,” a report released today by the Get Schooled Foundation.

Besides that, these students don’t believe that their lower-than-average attendance will create any barriers to their eventual goals of graduating high school, attending college or getting a job. Often, they are wrong.

“Students who miss more than 10 days of school are more than 20 percent less likely to graduate from high school than their peers, and those same students have 25 percent lower likelihood of ever enrolling in any type of college,” the report says, citing the work of Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes from Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center.

In fact, 7 million students miss 18 or more days of school each year, according to the report, “The Importance of Being in School: A Report on Absenteeism on the Nation’s Public Schools,” from those two researchers.

Who are the skippers? Hart Research conducted interviews in late June with 516 teens at malls in 25 cities to learn about their school attendance habits. Researchers found that students who do skip tend to skip a lot—46 percent of skippers are absent at least part of the day about once a week or more. Skipping school becomes an established behavior by the end of 9th grade, the researchers discovered.

Interestingly, the skippers come from all socioeconomic, racial and geographic backgrounds. The Get Schooled research indicates that 57 percent grew up in a two-parent home; 34 percent have one or more parent who graduated from college; 33 percent have a parent who dropped out of high school. Two-thirds report that they come from homes with average or above-average incomes.

Most teens believed that their parents were clueless about their children’s absence from school: 42 percent said their parents “never” or “rarely” know when they skip school. “This is despite the fact that 65 percent of these same students said their teachers, principals and others have talked to them about their skipping habits,” according to the report.

Teens skip for one main reason: ennui. More than 61 percent of school skippers find school boring and uninteresting. When they are not in school, nearly two-thirds reported that they are most likely “hanging out with friends.”

Reversing the Behavior

What works to keep students in class, and in school? The students themselves identified three factors:

  1. Raise awareness about the importance of attendance. If students understood the consequences of their absences, they would be much less likely to skip, they said.
  2. Make school more engaging. Students yearn for a connection between their “real lives” and what they learn in school. Relevance matters.
  3. Deliver the right message with the right messengers. Parents, a trusted teacher, and a respected artist, athlete, or celebrity can have a dramatic effect on student decisionmaking when it comes to school attendance.

New York City schools, at the behest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have piloted programs with the Get Schooled Foundation to reverse absenteeism. Because there are also public safety implications—almost 80 percent of all juveniles arrested had been chronically absent prior to their arrest—the mayor created an interagency task force to tackle the problem two years ago.

The city created an evidence-based model of mentoring called Success Mentors, and used “wake up” calls recorded by a variety of celebrities that students could request to help them get out of bed and to school on time.

The city also focused on parent engagement in elementary and middle schools by holding various summits at the schools.

“The one area that has been most successful is when we can report a success about a student. When we had a summit for chronically absent students and their families, we looked for any improvement—like five straight days of attendance—and we reported that. The parents are so used to being contacted by school when there’s a problem,” said Leslie Cornfield from Bloomberg’s office. “The response (to positive news) was overwhelming.”

What Parents Can Do

“Parents are the very first line of defense when it comes to absenteeism or skipping school,” said National PTA President Betsy Landers, who participated in a webinar yesterday about the Get Schooled study. “Parents have to talk to their children about the significance of attendance.”

“Back to school season is a great time to talk about this, for parents to set good habits...There are literally more than 100 ways parents can be involved, from sharing their expectations, to setting goals with a teacher and deciding with the teacher the best way to stay in touch. A few simple actions will help parents know if our children are skipping school.”

Among the Get Schooled resources that can benefit parents of teens:

An Attendance Calculator that allows parents to input the number of days their child has missed to see how this may impact their test scores and graduation rates.

Wake Up Calls allow students to sign up for an automated wake-up call with a recorded morning message from some of their favorite celebrities, including Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, Chris Rock, and Tyra Banks. Thus far, more than 55,000 students have signed up for celebrity wake-up calls.

Schools can participate in friendly attendance challenges. Todd Peterson, an assistant principal at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas, reported that his school won one of these. “We increased our average daily attendance from 90 percent to 93 percent, and took 1,600 kids on buses to see the premiere of a movie. That was exciting, and the kids were so proud of it,” he said.

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.