Sunday, April 3, 2016

Student Absenteeism and School Climate: Why Are Students ‘Fading-Out’ of High School?

Empty desks
Climate change is becoming the biggest public policy issue — closer to home and in our junior and senior high schools.  A recent CBC News Nova Scotia series, Making the Grade which aired in February 2016, not only looked at the plight of classroom teachers, but ripped the lid off of growing teacher concerns about, and frustration over, the deterioration in academic tone and school climate. It also exposed the leading symptom of the malaise – chronic student absenteeism and “school refusal behaviour” in our high schools.

One Nova Scotia teacher, Christine Emberley of the Bedford Education Centre, finally broke the silence.  Teachers have lost the ability to enforce deadlines while they are being told by school authorities to “teach real-world skills,” Ms. Emberley told CBC News, and that’s a big contradiction. Professional teachers and parent who recognize  deadline importance, she explained, are up against educators who insist, quite wrongly, that “consequences of any kind equals punishment.”  School should be the safe pace to make mistakes — like missing deadlines or skipping classes –and experience consequences.

Student absenteeism is a complex problem because it has multiple causes and is deeply embedded in a contemporary high school culture which can be almost consequence-free for so-called ‘floaters.’  A young woman taught by Ms. Emberley knew there was a problem when she arrived at high school.  “Pushed through with no effort –sometimes missing weeks at a time for behavioural incidents or because she just didn’t feel like going — she knew she lacked the foundational skills to succeed and the work ethic to catch up.” Giving students every opportunity to succeed, she concluded, does not mean “bypassing the lessons that teach work ethic so they can pass grade levels.”

Some 25 to 30 per cent of today’s student population are ‘turned-off’ and disengaged from schools.  (more...)

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