Truancy Fact Sheet (page 2)

Updated on Jul 16, 2010

Results of high school failure

  • No one really knows what the drop out rate for truants is; most school districts do not collect the data.
  • Data from the 2000 census show that high school dropouts had only a 52% employment rate in 1999, compared to 71% for high school graduates, and 83% for college graduates. Of those who worked full-time year-round in 1999, high school drop outs earned only 65% of the median earnings.
  • For every race and gender group, high school dropouts claim more in government-funded social services expenditures than high school graduates. For men in particular, dropouts incur more in criminal justice costs. The average dropout costs more than $200,000 in current dollars over the course of his or her lifetime.
    • Vernez, Georges, Richard A. Krop, and C. Peter Rydell, Closing the Education Gap: Benefits and Costs, RAND MR-1036-EDU, 1999.
  • As of 1997, 41% of prison inmates, and 31% percent of probationers 18 years and older had not graduated from high school or earned a GED, compared with 18% of the general population.
    • Harlow, C. W., “Education and Correctional Populations,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, January 2003, NCJ 195670.

Court and community responses to truancy

  • Seventeen states have laws requiring young people to stay in school or maintain a certain grade point average to earn or keep their drivers’ licenses.
    • Kelderman, Eric, “Truant Teens Lose Licenses in Georgia and Other States,”, Thursday, August 19, 2004. .
  • Most truancy reduction efforts can be categorized as either school-based, court-based, or community-based. There are many examples of all three kinds of programs operating nationwide. Check the Truancy Registry, accessible from this website, for details of all the programs in this voluntary registry. One example of each type of program is listed here:
    • Community-based program: Communities in Schools, Inc. operates in 235 school districts in 30 states. They work not only improve school attendance, but to break down all barriers to high school graduation.
    • School-based program: Denver Public Schools has focused its truancy program on middle school students, trying to reverse patterns of truancy before they become ingrained in the high school years.
    • Court-based program: The At-Risk Youth Program of the Seattle County Court, though a court-based program, involves the community in providing attendance workshops that are alternatives to standard truancy court hearings, and case managers to work with the family of each truant youth.
  • According to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, there were 1,332 truants in juvenile detention in 1997, 913 in 1999, and 784 in 2001. The Census Bureau conducts this survey biannually for OJJDP, counting juveniles in detention nationwide on a single day in late October.

Factors Contributing to Truancy

Research, and our own experience, shows that the factors contributing to truancy stem from three realms: family and community, school, and personal psychological characteristics. They are listed below.

School Factors
  • Lack of effective and consistently applied attendance policies.
  • Poor record-keeping, making truancy difficult to spot.
  • Push-out policies, for example, suspension as a punishment for truancy and automatic “Fs” for students with poor attendance.
  • Parents/guardians not notified of absences.
  • Teacher characteristics, such as lack of respect for students and neglect of diverse student needs.
  • Unwelcoming atmosphere, for example, an unattractive facility or one with chronic maintenance problems.
  • Unsafe environment, for example a school with ineffective discipline policies where bullying is tolerated.
  • Inadequate identification of special education needs, leading some students to feel overwhelmed and frustrated with their inability to succeed.
Home and Community Factors
  • Family health or financial concerns that pressure the student to care for family members or work during school hours.
  • Child is a victim of abuse or neglect.
  • Pressures arising from teen pregnancy or parenting.
  • Safety issues such as violence near home or between home and school.
  • Parental alcoholism or drug abuse.
  • Negative role models, such as peers who are truant or delinquent.
  • Parents/guardians who do not value education and are complicit in student’s absences.
Personal Factors
  • Poor academic performance, sometimes due to special education needs, and a resulting lack of self-esteem.
  • Unmet mental health needs.
  • Alcohol and drug use and abuse.
  • Lack of vision of education as a means to achieve goals.

Components of Effective Truancy Reduction Programs

  • Parent/guardian involvement, or whole family involvement.
  • A continuum of supports, including meaningful incentives for good attendance and consequences for poor attendance.
  • Collaboration among community actors such as law enforcement, mental health workers, mentors, and social service providers, in addition to educators.
  • Concrete and measurable goals for program performance and student performance. Good record keeping and on-going evaluation of progress toward those goals.
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