Perspective: Make school compulsory again

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What will make children go to school? The answer to this question was clear. First, their parents. And then, if not, the law. But over the past few years, and especially since the pandemic and resulting lockdowns, some children have fallen out of the habit of going to school. And they still haven’t returned.

Take Maine, for example, where chronic absenteeism (defined as missing more than 10% of school days) has become a serious problem. According to another condition In the Portland Press Herald, “Before the pandemic, 16.8% of Maine’s population was…12 students met this definition. During the pandemic by the 2021-22 school year, that number had nearly doubled to 31.5%. Last year, that Slight decline To 27.3%.

These figures reflect national figures. And as my colleague Nat Malkmus noted, nationally Chronic absenteeism rates It was “29% in 2021-2022 and 27% in the 39 states that released data for 2022-2023 (up from 15% in 2018-2019).”

newly condition In New York Magazine points out how popular it has become recently for children (from different economic classes) to take “mental health days.” For some, these have turned into long-term “school avoidance.” The author points out that allowing too many mental health days signals to kids that you think they can’t handle anything that goes wrong at school. Instead of coddling children, it would be better to point out that we actually believe that school is important and that they need to face their problems.

A surprising number of advocates believe the cause of this problem is complex. “Think of it like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” one nonprofit leader told the Press Herald. “If a student does not have a place to live, an emotionally safe environment to return to or enough food to eat, school will not be a priority,” she said. Perhaps, but presumably these same children still had other needs before the pandemic and were able to go to school more often. However, the editorial board of the Press Herald I finish Restoring the child tax credit is the key to fixing this problem.

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Meanwhile, A condition Axios notes that “chronic and acute illnesses, trauma, family responsibilities, housing and food insecurity” all contribute to missing school. There are more on the list: “academic or behavioral struggles, anxiety, unwelcoming school climate, undiagnosed disability.” Not to mention, “the lack of culturally challenging and responsive education, and the lack of meaningful relationships with adults, needs work.”

Oof. Clearly there are a lot of problems in schools and challenges faced by children trying to get into them. But this sounds more like a list of excuses by people who supported school closures rather than a plan to bring children back. And again, all of these problems existed before the pandemic. Why are they responsible for the sharp decline in recent years?

Of course, poverty is closely linked to absenteeism from work. Poor parents are less likely to have access to education and less likely to care about their children’s education. And those who We are Those involved tend to live in poorly performing school districts and many worry about the risk of sending their children to school. But let’s not forget that the school also provides free babysitting (and often free meals) for children. In other words, poor parents sometimes have a greater incentive to send their children to school than other parents. If they need to go to work, sending the children to school is a very good strategy.

So what really happened? Once officials signaled that school was optional, the idea took hold — both among students and parents. If teachers and administrators think it’s good for us to stay home, why shouldn’t we? Many districts also gave up truancy officers, so there was no one to enforce the rules about kids going to school as well. Across the country, school districts and teachers unions have told (disproportionately poor) families that they will need to make other arrangements. They will need to stay at home with their children, leave them with relatives, or in many cases leave them alone. Teachers I spoke with during the pandemic described using Zoom with young children who were home alone or supervised by other children. One teacher described a kindergartener on Zoom at night, during what were supposed to be parent-teacher conferences, with some kind of tube in his mouth.

Different countries try different approaches to solve the problem. Maine organizes a “walking bus stop,” where someone comes to a child’s home and takes them to the bus stop. In Ohio, they’re thinking about it Push the kids From the age of 5 years to go to school. The pilot program will offer kindergarten and ninth grade students $25 just for attending class nine out of 10 days during a two-week period. A Republican state lawmaker explained that other forms of bribery have not been successful. “So, we tried pizza day, we tried game hours, we tried all kinds of things. It just didn’t seem to work,” he said.

Whether cash will work is an open question. For older kids, $25 isn’t much. This means that if they are willing to spend a few hours at McDonald’s, they can get more than that with much less effort. For younger children, the question is do their parents really have motivation, because no 5-year-old wakes up and gets ready for school on their own. Would parents care about $25 every two weeks? Probably not.

Restoring trust does not come cheap.

Naomi Schiffer Reilly is a senior fellow at… American Enterprise Institute, Deseret News contributor and author of “There’s No Way to Cure a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racist Activists Destroy Young Lives“, among other books.

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