I've written earlier of comments made by Nebraska Education Commissioner Rodger Breed and other state educators who believe that there is NEVER good reason to miss school other than the occasional serious documented illness. Governor Heineman has repeatedly said that if "kids aren't in school they can't learn", and there is an assumption being made by the legislative body that kids who miss 20 days of school or more can't possibly learn!
This idea, of course, is foreign to many parents of excellent students who occasionally travel during the school year with their children, have chronically sick kids who miss school often, or have children who are very involved in extra-curricular pursuits outside the school curriculum. Many students maintain excellent grades because of the things that pull them away from school from time to time and the excellent parents who make sure that excellence in school is the objective.
It seems that many state officials share this belief. In response to a correspondence from a Nebraska father, who wrote senators expressing his concern that the current "truancy" law reaches too far into the lives of Nebraska families, Sen. Gwen Howard responded by expressing her sympathies for sick children but said, "I am not as sympathetic for students who hit the 20 day limit because of family vacations or other trips. Children cannot possibly learn when they are missing 20 or more days without any consequences."
My own independent research of the link between school attendance and school attainment shows that the affects of attendance on educational outcomes overall is murky. A comprehensive study done in Glasgow, Scotland, found that the connection between absence and academic performance only became striking when the students missed excessively (over 28.5 days). "In a school year of 190 days, each 1.9 days of absence above the average of 28.5 days decreased the total of the English and mathematics grades gained by pupils by only 0.1 of a grade". Not earth-shattering!
The faultiness of connecting educational outcomes so directly to school attendance was demonstrated in this same study when they found that that “25% of pupils who gained a grade 1 (A) in mathematics had a record of absence for more than 5.2% in one year, whereas 25% of those getting a grade 7 (Failing) were absent for less time than this, 4.8%. Even more striking was that generally, a quarter of all pupils getting low grades (5, 6 and 7) in mathematics did not miss a single day’s schooling and were model pupils in this respect.”
Certainly there is data in numerous studies that shows a link between attendance and grades, but it is important that we not make the mistake of concluding that correlation is causation. Researchers across the nation have been careful to point out that low academic achievement could just as well cause, truancy as be one of its effects.
Studies aside, it is evident is that the Nebraska school attendance law is an effort to reshape a parenting paradigm that has long accepted that parents have a natural right to make such judgments on behalf of their children. The law bypasses local school district policy, which in many cases excuses absences related to "family travel" and honors a parent's natural right to make these judgments. It requires schools to ignore their own school district policies and refer all students to law enforcement at 20 days of absence, regardless of the individual circumstances of the student and family.
I would ask those who support Nebraska's current "truancy" law, which is more "immoral"? To usurp the natural rights and responsibilities of ALL Nebraska parents in order to have oversight in every case that may lead to delinquent behavior, OR to allow parents to choose whether or not it is appropriate for their child to participate in club sports, take a ski trip, or stay home an extra day to recover from the flu?