Accountability Connecticut Education Reform Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Poverty

Wendy Lecker: Stop Blaming Schools for Chronic Absenteeism

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In the era of Bush-Obama education policy, it became conventional wisdom to blame schools for the effects of poverty. Civil rights lawyer Wendy Lecker explains that the test-and-punish regime continues by blaming schools and punishing them for chronic absenteeism. 

She writes:

NCLB measured school quality based on standardized test scores and relied on sanctions such as school turnaround, takeover and privatization. After almost two decades under NCLB, and the acknowledgment that the metric was inaccurate and the prescriptions were ineffective, the federal government decided to try a tweaked version of its failed test-and-punish regime.

The ESSA system employs multiple “indicators” of school quality. Each indicator provides schools and districts with points that together dictate what types of sanctions are imposed. The dashboard showing the schools’ and districts’ points for each indicator are also published online.

Nowhere on this dashboard is the state graded for whether or not it adequately funds Connecticut public schools, even though nationwide evidence proves a causal connection between school spending and student achievement.

One indicator under Connecticut’s ESSA plan is chronic absenteeism. The rationale Connecticut provides for including this indicator is the research and data demonstrating an association of chronic absenteeism to student academic achievement and high school graduation. What the ESSA plan does not detail are the causes of absenteeism.

A new study from Wayne State University tracks the incidence of chronic absenteeism across U.S. cities. The researchers found that nationwide, certain factors are significantly correlated with chronic absenteeism, namely: long-term population change, asthma rates, poverty and unemployment rates, residential vacancy rates, violent crime rates, average monthly temperature, and racial segregation.

Thus, although under Connecticut’s accountability system, chronic absenteeism is an indicator of school quality, and can contribute to a school or school district being subjected to increasingly draconian sanctions, none of the factors listed above that are significantly correlated with chronic absenteeism has anything to do with school.

Common sense in federal education policy would be nice for a change.

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