Dr. Anna Egalite, an assistant professor of education policy at the NC State College of Education, and her co-authors write about truant students and state-level policy for a chapter in a new book Absent from School co-edited by Michael Gottfried and Ethan Hunt.
In the chapter, Egalite focuses on student absenteeism once it is escalated to truancy and how Arkansas school districts responded when state-level policy banned the use of out-of-school suspension as a disciplinary response. Dr. Kaitlin Anderson, a post-doctoral research associate at Michigan State University, and Dr. Jonathan Mills, a senior research associate at the University of Arkansas, served as co-authors.
Egalite shares what sparked her interest in school absenteeism and three takeaways from her chapter in Absent from School.
How did you get interested in school absenteeism?
There is broad consensus around the need to improve academic achievement and reduce inequality in elementary and secondary students’ outcomes but little agreement on how to best accomplish these goals. Over the course of the 20th century, school reformers have tried emphasizing student, school and teacher accountability, improving school facilities, raising barriers to entry into the teaching profession, extending the school day, rewriting standards, revising curricula, and numerous other approaches that have met with various levels of success.
One common thread linking these approaches to educational reform is the cost. Many of these approaches also require complicated, time-intensive training, data collection and supervision in order to ensure effective implementation. Often overlooked in these efforts is a simpler intervention that has the potential to reduce achievement gaps at a minimal cost by increasing students’ opportunity to learn: reducing student absenteeism.
In your chapter in Absent from School, you and your co-authors discuss findings from a state-level policy that bans suspensions for truancy. What are a few takeaways from your research on this policy?
Although we might expect that banning out-of-school suspension for truancy would promote school engagement by increasing the amount of time students spend in the classroom, it is unclear if this goal will be achieved in practice. If school districts do not receive information about alternative approaches to discipline or additional state support to offset the costs involved with taking a new approach to schoolwide discipline reform—such as a multi-tiered system of support—administrators might feel under-prepared and under-resourced to respond to the statewide directive.
- Compliance with the policy was low, particularly among the very schools for whom the policy was designed to target.
- Trends in the consequences for truancy changed after the policy went into effect with a slight decline in out-of-school suspension and a slight increase in the “other” category of consequences. This suggests schools may have been responding to the policy by strategically assigning alternative consequences that may still be exclusionary in nature.
- We found little evidence of improved student engagement after the policy went into effect, suggesting the logic model underlying the policy change was incomplete or must have overlooked important details such as implementation support, training and resources to support alternative discipline policies.