Kids skipping school one of state's many ills
UNM researchers released a report Tuesday showing that 15 percent of the state’s students were habitually truant in 2011-12.
The numbers may be another reason that New Mexico typically finishes near the bottom in education rankings. Perhaps the surest way to nullify a great teacher is by kids skipping school.
In the last academic year, 51,034 students were habitually truant, meaning they accumulated 10 or more days of unexcused absences. The state had about 334,000 kids in public schools during that stretch.
Put another way, the number of habitual truants was about double the enrollment of the Las Cruces public schools, second-largest district in the state.
The findings by the University of New Mexico’s Center for Education Policy Research were outlined for a legislative education committee.
Peter Winograd, right, one of the authors of the report, told lawmakers that he had plenty of statistics, but no clear idea of what becomes of those kids chronically absent from school.
But habitual truancy, Winograd said, is a signal of numerous social ills.
The UNM researchers, in looking at the Albuquerque Public Schools, found that habitual truants were more likely to have tried cocaine and considered or tried suicide. They also were more likely to have had sex.
Part of the truancy research was tied to the state Department of Health’s Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey of 2009. It found that more than 15 percent of the students in Dona Ana, Eddy, Lea, Rio Arriba and Valencia counties reported using cocaine in the prior 30 days. Other counties, such as Santa Fe and Bernalillo, had cocaine usage numbers by teens that were nearly that high.
The researchers said the causes of habitual truancy are many. Drugs, pregnancy, poor performance in school, bullying and a lack of caring adults were among the ones they cited.
Winograd said his group did not want to see truancy categorized as a delinquent act or a crime.
Rather, the researchers said, “truancy should be viewed as a symptom” of larger problems and addressed by schools, cities, police, juvenile courts and parents.
“The schools can’t do it alone. Communities can’t do it alone,” Winograd said.
Given the scope of the problem, he said, more data was needed to determine how best to get more students in their seats.
He said a next step might be a statewide task force digging further to find how truancy fits with social problems tracked by the Children, Youth and Families Department.