This was not a surprise to me. I teach at a traditional MPS high school on the northwest side.
I penned a letter to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week and submitted it for publication. Sadly,
As a teacher in a traditional Milwaukee Public High School, a story form the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service reporting on habitual truancy rates within MPS high schools only reinforces the immense struggles inner-city education faces. My fellow teachers, administrators, social workers, and others work at confronting and attempting to combat the issue of student truancy on a daily basis.
However, we need help.
On a weekly basis as a school we review the previous week’s attendance and brainstorm ideas of how to increase attendance and engagement. Phone calls, letter writing campaigns, and home visits occur frequently, but success is still illusive. Yet, we continue to brainstorm, revisit methods, and work at expanding the resources we do have to reach our students.
In my third year of teaching in MPS and living in Milwaukee as a transplant from the Fox Valley, the issue of student truancy contributes more than any other factor into the quality of lessons I am able to design and effectively implement. As a teacher in a school with inconsistent student attendance, it is incredibly difficult to design projects that involve multiple students and develop their skills of teamwork, leadership, management, and goal setting. These employability skills are crucial for our student’s success beyond the classroom walls as members of society.
We teachers know the struggle and costs of habitual truancy. We need help.
The solutions to this problem are long, complex, and must include stakeholders from across the entire community. The Community Schools model recently advanced by the Milwaukee Teachers Educators Association and Commitment Schools agenda by MPS are steps in the right direction. Furthermore, the advent of Parent Coordinators in all MPS schools this year as an additional resource is immeasurable in assisting our efforts as classroom teachers.
However, to truly correct issues of student truancy, we need a holistic community wide approach.
The news article notes very well many of the problems our students within MPS face with attendance. The reasons why students of mine are not at school or in my class are as individual and unique as the personalities that make up their being as a person. This means the solutions to this problem need to be unique and individual to the students who find themselves in a situation of habitual truancy.
We need help reaching our students who have to take care of their own children, siblings, parents or have other family obligations. We need help reaching our students who work overnight to help pay for the heat bill. We need help reaching our students who are transient between Milwaukee and other communities. We need help combating all of the societal temptations that teenagers confront.
We need help.
With news of the governor and state legislature drafting a new school accountability bill for the upcoming legislative session, I worry the issue of student truancy will be left out of the discussion and ideology will rule the day. Punitive sanctions, loss of funding, or turning public buildings over to charter operators makes no progress combating the truancy issue on a societal level.
For schools who are struggling with truancy, these options will mean fewer parent coordinators, fewer social workers making home visits, or larger class sizes with less individualized attention and instruction. This only serves to put more barriers in place to having students achieve a high school diploma or GED and further exacerbates the issues faced with unemployment in the inner city.
This is an issue with blame beyond MPS, beyond families, and one on which we cannot just sit back and say, “oh-well” as a community.
We need help.