By James C. Sherlock
I have found in 18 years of reporting on education in the Commonwealth that each school, each school division and each region is to some degree its own ecosystem.
Taking the example of chronic absenteeism, an individualized assessment of causes could be attempted:
- if a single school‘s chronic absenteeism can be adjusted statistically for differences in its demographics (race, ethnicity, economic status, English learners, IEPs, etc.) to its division norms, and
- if that school is a statistical outlier from its division good or bad.
But those are very big if’s because of the complex algorithm that would be required for comparing. And the results would apply only to that specific school.
I have sometimes compared divisions‘ statistical performances on absenteeism and SOL pass rates against state norms, but usually at the extremes. There are too many variables to sort among the bulk of them. At the division level, the variables are as great as at the school level.
Regional differences are there, but causes are hard to pin down beyond differences in demographics and cultures.
That said, and to some degree for that reason, I offer two new state roles for improving school attendance:
- marketing, which is either not now done at all or done ineffectively, to increase parents understanding of the value of school; and
- investigations and enforcement, which are done sporadically across the state. That is because of both the time and expertise investigations take and current laws that require schools to involve the court system in enforcement.
Those recommendations are not budget neutral. This is a budget year. They are tailored to draw Democratic support. The time for them is now.
Given the time necessary to prepare proposals, it will likely take a special session to address them.
The chronic absenteeism crisis, appropriately designated by the Governor, rates one.