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No School, No Drive Laws Gain Traction

commentary by Daniel Duerden | October 27, 2011

Related Topics: driver's education, truancy laws, attendance, academic performance

Keeping kids and teenagers from skipping school is an age old battle. Most kids hate school, and it would not be a stretch that even the most dedicated student would rather be elsewhere. Because of this, School districts and local governments around the country have attempted to implement various policies, consequences and incentives to keep students in school. The latest trend over the last decade has been tying school attendance and performance to students obtaining and retaining their driver’s licenses.

Recently, in Georgia, nearly 13,000 teenagers had their driver’s licenses suspended for skipping school. While the law has been around for over a decade, and have ample warning, students still lost their licenses for either one year, or until they turned 18. In addition to Georgia 26 other states tie retaining a driver’s license to either school attendance, performance or behavior.

While, in theory, these policies should work—a driver’s license is one of the ultimate goals of any teenager—there are many that question whether they are really that effective. Potential issues arise as officials, first worry that students will just drive without a license, but then point out that forcing a student in class doesn’t mean they will learn anything.

“Getting their bodies into the building doesn’t mean they are going to learn anything,” Russell Rumberger, a professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the director of the California Dropout Research Project said to Education Week.

Another issue that is often ignored is looking at why students drop out of school.

“The only issue I really see with it is some of those students that drop out are dropping out for financial issues, to help their families,” Jason Senne, assistant principal at Austin High School, said in a report by The Austin Daily Herald.

Truancy laws are nothing new. Many areas around the country have had laws that fine the student or the parent for missing too much school. There are even incidents of parents receiving jail time.

In Pennsylvania earlier this year, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the Lebanon school district challenging 8,000 fines totaling $1.3 million in fines. The reasoning behind the suit was that the penalties associated with truancy were abusive and counterproductive. According to one story in The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Penn., one student accumulated over $17,000 in fines, which would set that student back before they even graduated high school.

It seems that the overall focus in attempting to keep kids from skipping class is penalty and punishment. While this works to an extent there comes a point when one just does not care about punishment and will do what they want anyway. It is important to implement an incentive plan in addition to penalties. Make sure that the student feels that they are getting something out of being at school.

Interestingly, according to Education Week, one of the only studies found looking at the effectiveness of tying a driver’s license to attendance said that the policy only worked after the addition of a counseling program.

This tells us that there needs to be more than just a harsh punishment to keep kids and teenagers in school. More importantly once a student is in school, something must be done get kids and teenagers engaged in learning. Otherwise what is the point of school?

“It’s much better in my view to be putting resources and energy into making schools better places for kids,” Rumberger said.

Daniel Duerden is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions