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Opinion

Column: The Whiteboard Jungle: Rising absenteeism, while students still receive honors, is a troubling trend

One of the things that bothers me as a teacher at this time of year is senioritis, a disease that goes untreated by many schools.

Over the course of several weeks, even months, 12th-graders recklessly start not coming to school, with the high-achievers tending to be the worst offenders.

In the fall, these kids are model pupils, but come spring, all bets are off.

Some teachers enable this behavior by not counting their absences as part of their grade. Often a student may have 20 or 30 absences, yet still get an A on their report card.

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These are the students who months earlier asked me to write college recommendations, extolling their virtues.

Now, with their mounting absences — both physical and intellectual — I am embarrassed that I wrote those glowing remarks.

These are the same students who work in tandem with school officials agreeing on a date for their unofficial Senior Ditch Day, who get pulled out of class to rehearse their own awards ceremony, who will be lauded and applauded come graduation night, who earned admittance into top colleges and received thousands of dollars in scholarships.

Say “hello” to tomorrow’s leaders.

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Absenteeism is not limited to seniors. Currently, 15% of my 10th-grade honors students have double-digit absences for a 98-day semester, three have more than 20.

Since each class lasts one hour, that’s equivalent to missing two full days of work in a 2½ week period, a level of absenteeism unacceptable at a real job.

One time I had a student with 33 absences, and the parent complained that her child was not receiving credit.

The Washington Post just published a story about severe absenteeism in Maryland schools. One student missed English class 47 times in one semester, yet still graduated.

Retired teacher Russell Rushton stated that “the accountability piece for student attendance is gone.”

What fuels such lack of accountability is a shared motivation among all parties to pass kids along, even when they are not passing the class: Kids want to graduate, schools want to move them along and teachers don’t want to be the bad guys or deal with hostile parents.

Graduation rates are viewed as evidence of a school’s quality, but not all high school diplomas are equal.

You have to wonder how the honest students feel knowing that they did all the right things during their academic career, yet the person to either side of them didn’t spend as much time in school and will receive the same piece of paper.

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That is one kind of diversity that is not right.

What happens when they go to college where attendance doesn’t matter as much? How watered down will their college degrees be?

All of us need to be concerned about this because once kids understand how to manipulate the education system to their advantage, that lack of ethics will plague the workplace.

College-educated people will not be as knowledgeable as those in the past. If they can get a paycheck by not showing up for work regularly, all of us will suffer.

Will future engineers, attorneys and doctors use YouTube videos to fill in the gaps of their education?

So hold off the celebrations when reading headlines that high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.

The moral: Don’t judge a school by its graduation rate.

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of “Smart Kids, Bad Schools” and “The $100,000 Teacher.” He can be reached at www.brian-crosby.com.

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