Chicago school officials have tried but largely abandoned various strategies for combating truancy in grades K-8 during the past two decades, while collecting little if any data on whether the programs were effective or why some failed. A few programs remain in place but operate on a limited scale or are riddled with problems, the Tribune found.
Chicago Public Schools' central office used area attendance administrators, or Triple A's, to assist schools. But they were also dismissed in recent years, and authorities now say individual schools are best positioned to determine whether they have an attendance problem and to devise solutions.
Chronic truancy adjudication: Illinois law authorizes school districts to hold truancy hearings at which a hearing officer can require the student and his or her parents to improve attendance, get counseling or do community service. The little-used program was suspended in 2010.
Community groups: CPS once gave grants of roughly $60,000 each to about a dozen community organizations assigned to specific schools to retrieve chronic nonattenders. The program ended two years ago amid internal questions about cost and accountability. Principals can now use discretionary funds to hire outside agencies.
Robocalls: If a child doesn't arrive by 9:30 a.m., schools initiate computerized robocalls to contact the family, followed by mailings after the fifth and 10th unexcused absences. Of the 5.7 million calls made in the 18-month period ending in July, more than a quarter failed, mostly because the phone number did not have enough digits or was out of service, CPS data show. "Successful" calls include those that reach an answering machine. Officials say it is difficult to maintain valid phone numbers for highly mobile impoverished families. The district said it is seeking a new contractor to "increase our ability to complete many more calls each day."
Truancy hotline: People who spot a school-age child on the streets or in a home during school hours can make a report by calling 773-553-4000. The callers typically get a recording. CPS policy is to check messages every other day, but one former employee said it often took days longer. CPS would not provide records that could enable the Tribune to gauge the hotline's effectiveness but said the hotline gets just two calls a day on average.
State grants: CPS this year received $3.2 million in state grants for truancy prevention, down from $3.7 million last year, and uses that money to staff "Re-engagement Centers" focused on high school truants and dropouts.
Check & Connect: Trained mentors make weekly hourlong visits or calls with about 450 at-risk first- through seventh-graders under a pilot program using federal and private foundation grants. The mentors work with school staff and bring in services from outside agencies. The program targets youths with midlevel attendance problems — 10 to 33 missed days last year. Check & Connect is in its second year in Chicago but was effective in reducing dropouts in Minnesota, studies show.
Police reports: When Chicago police find or detain a child younger than 16 on the streets during school hours, they hand-write "school absentee reports" and send a carbon copy to school authorities. At CPS headquarters, the police forms are boxed and sent to storage without being analyzed. "Due to staffing and time constraints, CPS is often unable to read the reports or take real-time action to address the needs of the youth," an official CPS report to the state said. Students returned to school by police "often (go) in the front door and out the back." Last year, police filed 34,800 absentee reports.
Court referrals: Illinois law allows county courts to intervene in the most serious truancy cases. Parents who "knowingly and willfully permit" young children to remain truant can be charged in adult court with a misdemeanor. Chronically truant youths and their parents also can be brought into juvenile court and provided with supervision and counseling or sanctioned. The Cook County state's attorney's office said it knew of no truancy referrals from CPS to the juvenile or adult courts during the last decade while a CPS official said school officials were told truancy cases would not be prosecuted.
— David Jackson and Gary Marx
Fighting truancy in Chicago schools: A score card on strategies
Officials have tried various programs over the years, but most have been abandoned or are ineffective
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
Los Angeles Times welcomes civil dialogue about our stories; you must register with the site to participate. We filter comments for language and adherence to our Terms of Service, but not for factual accuracy. By commenting, you agree to these legal terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.
Having technical problems? Check here for guidance.