The last week of January marks National School Choice Week, a celebration of all the alternatives parents have rather than simply accepting the education their traditional local public school wants to provide.
School choice supporters have been doing well for themselves recently, though it’s been an uphill battle. Attendance in privately operated charter schools is on the rise. Around two million students now attend charter school programs. Washington State voters in November approved the creation of 40 charter schools. They’re one of the few states left that had not been allowing them. And on Tuesday, California’s first parent-triggered charter school takeover succeeded. Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, one of the lower-scoring schools in the state, will be taken over by LaVerne Preparatory Academy, one of the highest-performing schools in its county.
Government funding for schools is partly based on student attendance. Public school systems have for decades drastically increased their number of employees at percentages far, far above the actual growth in student attendance. The result, combined with America’s ailing economy and growing public employee retirement burdens, has led to significant pressure for schools to keep those students’ butts parked firmly behind their desks. The battle for student attendance has led to evolving tactics by schools. Some are notably authoritarian and controlling, but not all tactics are bad. Some methods of improving student attendance actually may help undo authoritarian public education policies.
Here are four tactics public schools are using to keep attendance from falling.
1. Truancy Sweeps and Fines
Truancy sweeps are common occurrences in California. Just typing the words into Google will net you a page of California-centric stories of educators and law enforcement officials teaming up to scour communities for wayward students, detaining them and trying to force them back behind their desks by threat of fine or arrest. Sometimes these sweeps net homeschooled or alternative school students who keep different schedules from traditional schools, and sometimes these families discover the law doesn’t care.
Though law enforcement officials attempt to stress that keeping kids in school reduces potential criminal behavior in the future, the reality is that each of those truant children costs the school district cold, hard cash. And so, of course, fines become a tool not just for punishment, but for recovery. The government will get its money somehow.
Police at Los Angeles Unified School District, notably, annually hand out thousands of tickets to young students, particularly minorities. The Center for Public Integrity went through their citation rates for 2012 and found them little changed from 2011, despite a promise from the district to ease up on their sweeps that often targeted students not skipping school, but rather arriving at school late. As the Center’s report notes, these citations often ironically required students to then miss school in order to resolve them with the courts.
Next: Domestic surveillance is not just for the federal government.