I don't think adding an element of criminality to school makes school any better. We can't add a component as drastic as the criminal justice system to our education system. We have enough problems keeping our kids out of the system for trivial school problems that can be dealt with in a host of other ways without using the CJ system as a catchall. Why not figure out why kids are out of school and address those issues first.
Denver Public Schools may consider making attendance a factor in whether students pass or fail a grade, after an analysis found some students skipped as much as a third of the past school year.
"We just want to put it on the table," said Happy Haynes, a DPS administrator who worked on the analysis, adding, "It's controversial."
Linking attendance to promotion and retention was among the ideas mentioned Monday after Denver School Board members received what is believed to be the district's first in-depth look at attendance in years.
The results confirmed what many already suspected: Large numbers of middle and high school students are skipping big chunks of the school year.
West High School reported the worst rate, with 42 percent of its students missing more than 65 days in 2006-07. That's more than a third of the 173.5 days of the past school year.
School board members made no decisions during Monday night's informal work session. Instead, they listened as Haynes, assistant to the superintendent for community partnerships, presented the analysis along with Glenna Norvelle, special assistant to the superintendent.
The two also offered possible ways to address the issue, ranging from incentives such as movie passes for students with improved attendance to a "stipulated agreement" to get students' attention before they end up in juvenile court for truancy.
Norvelle said the agreement, worked out with the juvenile court system, allows students to avoid going to court provided they meet terms set out by DPS.
"We want to get their attention earlier in the process," she said, "before they show up in court."
Several board members said a districtwide attendance policy may be needed because schools vary in the handling of absences.
Board member Michelle Moss said some principals appear to have a policy of "after X number of absences, you don't get credit" for classes. Board President Theresa Peña said there's confusion over whether students are kicked out of school after missing 20 straight days.
Consequences have been "very inconsistently applied school to school," Haynes said.
The analysis found one effort to improve attendance, closing high school campuses at lunchtime, has had little impact. But board members did not seem inclined to change the initiative, begun last fall. Some said they believe it will make a difference as principals figure out better ways to enforce it.
Superintendent Michael Bennet said the analysis represents more than a year's work to create a system that breaks down attendance - by school, by grade, by subject, even by teacher. Nine high school teachers averaged student attendance rates of 97 percent or higher in 2006-07.
"When school opens next year, on a weekly or daily basis, we can generate the reports you see here," he told the board. "So we can say to schools, hey, you're in the bottom third in attendance this month; we don't want to see this next month."
Haynes said the data will allow DPS to pinpoint best practices and ask questions, such as "How are those six high school teachers getting 97 percent attendance rates?"