Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Reason to Come to School?

If a student comes to school and cuts my class, I consider that my problem. However, if a student doesn’t come to school at all, I tend not to worry about that kid. Unless I know a student from a previous class or a club relationship, I begin my sense of responsibility when students and I cross into the building. Therefore, Gretel C. Kovach’s “To Curb Truancy, Dallas Tries Electronic Monitoring” in the New York Times intrigues me.

I’ve never worked in a school with a truancy program; in fact, I’ve never given much thought to where the kids are who don’t come at all. I guess I’ve fully turned that one over to the front office. While watching Season 4 of HBO’s The Wire, I felt for the character of Cutty, an ex-con now working in various ways to keep kids off the street. In the show, a middle school in Baltimore uses a couple of temporary custodial positions to hire men as informal truant officers, and Cutty has taken the job. As
the HBO episode guide relates:

“Out on his truancy rounds, Cutty learns what his job is really about. The school is only interested in having the kids show up for one day a month in September and October - the minimum attendance that assures each school will be funded for the fullest enrollment. Cutty is incredulous. 'Naw, naw man. School is school,' he says to deaf ears. 'Which one of y'all still needs your September day?' his round-up partner asks the kids in an abandoned lot. Cutty is disgusted.”

This kind of bureaucratic ugliness can crush any educator’s spirit, and I try to stay away from school issues beyond my realm of control as a classroom teacher. I know I don’t have these system-wide answers. However, what would I think about teaching a kid wearing an ankle bracelet? Would I even know? My initial reaction is distaste, not unlike the state senator who “complained that ankle cuffs used in an earlier version were reminiscent of slave chains.” But since I’ve already admitted I don’t think much about where these students are, how much does my personal distaste matter?

Kovach writes: “The effort is financed by a $26,000 grant from Bruce Leadbetter, an equity investor who supports the program’s goals. The bulk of the money pays the salary of a full-time case manager, who monitors the students and works with parents and teachers.” I wonder if it is the relationship with this case worker that really makes the difference. It’s not fully clear in the article if the nine students at the featured school are the only members of the program, but Kovach gives the impression that nine students are in a six week pilot program. “The bulk” of 26K for six weeks and nine students sounds like a nice wage for the case worker, not that he or she doesn’t deserve it. I just wonder how that compares to the case loads and salaries of high school counselors.

The article creates the impression that once these formally truant kids get to school, they attend all their classes. Do the ankle bracelet and the focused attention from the case worker give these kids a sense that someone finally will notice whether or not they go to school? What does it say about a school system that can be fixed this way? It makes me want more information, information I could use to prove that smaller school sizes could create schools where kids knew people cared whether or not they showed up without electronic monitoring. To be fair, if I feel like doing extra educational research, it will be about teaching writing or critical reading; as I admitted already, I tend not to take on this kind of school system issue. An article like this one reminds me just how much work and thought has gone into getting my students in front of me. Free public schooling for the masses is some undertaking, isn’t it?

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The idea that a kid who cuts just your class as a problem strikes me a bit sideways: in a ceratin way, I view a kid who cuts my class as a compliment, because there's a acknowledgment of the challeng I am ever trying to prsent to my kids. The teens who cut my class are always the one with a handful of zero grades; they have a heavy investment in failure. While I will notify administration of a cut--far more often than my colleagues do, it seems--the kid who cuts is telling me that they can not sit and fail that day. I may or may not be able to get them to try--often times their domestic situation has already entrenched the teen's failure investment--but the cut tells me that they feel the challnge and this is a sign to me that passive failure is uncomfortable...that day, at least.