What is Truancy?
Any unexcused absence from school is considered a truancy, but states enact their own school attendance laws. State law determines 1) the age at which a child is required to begin attending school, 2) the age at which a child may legally drop out of school, and 3), the number of unexcused absences at which a student is considered legally truant. Truancy is a status offence – an act that is a crime due to the young age of the actor, but would not be illegal for someone older. The other most common status offences are running away from home, alcohol use, curfew violations, and ungovernability.
Truancy: The extent of the problem
While there is not an abundance of national truancy data, some metropolitan areas report thousands of unexcused absences each day.
DeKalb, Jay, “Student Truancy,” ERIC Digest 125, April 1999.
Data from Wisconsin show that during the 1998-99 school year, 15,600 students or 1.6% of enrolled students were truant per day. Truancy accounted for about 1/3 of total absences that year. Truancy rates in the 10 largest urban school districts were twice as high as the state average.
Legislative Audit Committee of the State of Wisconsin, “A Best Practices Review: Truancy Reduction Efforts,” August 2000.
Students with behavioral problems are often assigned to a counselor, but school counselors have large caseloads. Public high schools employed one counselor for every 284 students in 2002. Large schools (1,200+ students) employed one counselor for every 335 students. Counselors in schools with over 50% minority enrollment were responsible for 22% more students than their colleagues in low minority enrollment schools – 313 compared to 256 students.
National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Response Survey System, “Table 12: Number of guidance staff and counselors, and the number of students per guidance staff and per counselor assigned to public high school students, by selected school,”
http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/frss/publications/2003015/images/tab12.gif, October 1, 2004.
Boys are only slightly more likely to be sent to court for truancy than girls. According to juvenile court statistics collected by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, 54% of all petitioned truancy cases between 1990 and 1999 were for males, and 46% were for females.
Puzzanchera, C., et. al., Juvenile Court Statistics 1999, National Center for Juvenile Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, July 2003.
The National Center for School Engagement is an initiative of the COLORADO FOUNDATION FOR FAMILIES AND CHILDREN. 303 East 17th Avenue, Ste 400, Denver CO, 80203 ♦ Ph: 303-837-8466 ♦ Fax: 303-837-8496 ♦ www.truancyprevention.org
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Truancy is a risk factor for other problems
Truancy has been clearly identified as one of the early warning signs of students headed for potential delinquent activity, social isolation, or educational failure via suspension, expulsion, or dropping out.
Huizinga, D., Loeber, R., Thornberry, T. P. & Cothern, L. (2000, November). Co-occurrence of delinquency and other problem behaviors. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, OJJDP. Huizinga, D., Loeber, R., & Thornberry, T. P. (1994, March). Urban delinquency and substance abuse: Initial findings, OJJDP
Morris, J. D., Ehren, B. J., & Lenz, B. K. (1991). Building a model to predict which fourth through eighth graders will drop out in high school. Journal of Experimental Education, 59(3), 286-292.
Lack of commitment to school has been established by several studies as a risk factor for substance abuse, delinquency, teen pregnancy, and school dropout. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General, Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control;...