• The Potential for Online Schools to Reduce Truancy

    Date: 10.03.12 | by Judge Tom.

    Ask The Judge has written before about how juvenile inmates were earning high school diplomas while behind bars: these inmates are typically individuals who have specific lifestyle tendencies which tend to prophesy certain choices made in adulthood. Estelle Shumann, the author of this post, writes for OnlineSchools.org. She discusses how online schools have the potential to reduce student truancy, and how they may provide students an alternative option to skipping school, getting into trouble, and ending up in places they wouldn’t otherwise want to be. 

    Homework on the beach

    Photo by Ingo Bernhardt

    American high schools have come under fire in recent years when it comes to teacher quality, test scores, and funding problems. One of the biggest areas of concern for many communities—student truancy—has little to do with these criticisms, however. Students who simply aren’t showing up for class face a unique set of problems largely unrelated to broader education quality. A number of studies have linked truancy with high dropout rates, juvenile delinquency, and government dependency. Homelessness and deep poverty can also sometimes be traced back to high school truancy. There are many different reasons why students are failing to show up for school, but in many cases, bringing the classroom to the student can solve the problem. Online high schools in many districts have been looking for ways of leveraging the Internet to boost attendance rates, and many have been seeing success.

    Truancy is on the rise nationwide, but is most noticeable in high-density urban areas. Children who live in big cities are almost twice as likely as those in rural communities to become truant, or chronically absent. In most places, one must miss at least 20 days of school per year to meet this threshold. So many absences can profoundly affect how well a student absorbs presented material, which is often manifested as poor grades and test scores. 

    Online high schools have the potential to boost these numbers by allowing students to attend classes and complete their schoolwork remotely, usually from a computer at home or in a public library. Online high schools were once something of an anomaly, but they are soaring in popularityin school districts nationwide. 

    Students who would otherwise miss school for athletics, illness, or disability are often the best served by the online platform. The ability to simply log in allows students who might otherwise be forced to miss class a chance to stay on top of things. 

    The benefits may also extend to those who are missing school not because they can’t attend, but rather because they simply don’t want to. These are the sorts of students school districts worry the most about, as they are the ones most likely to turn their truancy into a lifelong pattern of behavior. 

    “People generally think some of the reasons kids stay away from school is discretionary,” Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher told US News & World Report. “But there are many reasons why students don’t attend school regularly, each requiring a different approach to remedy.” Students who are skipping class because they don’t feel safe, because they have to stay home to take care of younger siblings, or because they feel they need to make money to support their families require a unique approach. 

    Simply putting classes online is not usually enough in these situations. For the Internet-based model to work, students must be motivated to learn

    “It is very easy to become truant online,” Stacy Bender, dean of students at the Minnesota Virtual High School, told the Minnesota Public Radio in 2011. “Unmotivated students can just stop logging in and then lie about it to their parents and within two weeks, they are truant.” 

    One of the best ways to ensure attendance, Bender said, is to set up accountability. Assigning online students active mentors who will regularly check in with them and monitor their progress is often a big part of the equation. Children from troubled or isolated backgrounds often think that their presence is not valued, or convince themselves that school doesn’t matter. Shifting to an online platform can’t correct these perceptions—but attentive instructors can. Simply making the classes more accessible is not likely to sway the students for whom truancy is a choice. The online model works best when integrated as a part of a larger truancy prevention program.

    This article was written by guest contributor Estelle Shumann who also writes for OnlineSchools.org.

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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