The real problem isn't getting teenagers to stay in school. It's giving them a reason to show up in the first place.
Even as President Obama urges states to raise the minimum attendance age to 18, public schools nationwide are struggling to get the students who are already required to be there to show up.
In Detroit last year, the average high school student missed at least 28 days of school, according to an eye-opening story by NPR's Larry Abramson. There are plenty of reasons why families struggle to get their kids to class on time, as Abramson reports. Some of the situations reflect obvious hardship -- some families are ashamed to send their children to school in threadbare clothing. (Detroit, like many districts, does offer families with vouchers to help with such situations.) In other cases, parents don't seem to realize the seriousness of their child's truancy, or even know just how many days of school they have missed.
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In Lewiston, Maine, 121 seniors failed to graduate on time last year, having missed an average of 82 days, the equivalent of half of their academic year, reported the Bangor Daily News. Gus LeBlanc, the principal of Lewiston High School and a former truancy officer, told the Daily News that "Parents have the greatest influence over whether kids attend or not. We really need to get parents on board to get their kids to attend school."
By the time students drop out, their poor attendance habits are well ingrained, according to recent research. In a study of Baltimore's public schools, researchers found that "increasing ninth grade attendance and course passing rates is the most important lever for increasing the graduation rate," reported Attendance Works, a nonprofit advocacy group based in San Francisco.