Don’t Call Them Truant Officers Anymore

Schools turn absenteeism problem over to private companies and ‘professional student advocates’

That school absenteeism remains sky-high after the pandemic has been well documented. But a story by ProPublica and the New Yorker adds a new wrinkle to the narrative: More schools across the US are turning to private companies to try to get kids back in the classroom. And their focus is not on punishment but on encouragement. One person profiled is Shepria Johnson, who works for a company called Concentric Educational Solutions and spends her day knocking on the doors of homes in the Detroit area where absentee students live. When a parent asks if she’s a truant officer, she replies, “No, I’m a professional student advocate,” using the company term. “If you’re a truant officer, they’re defensive,” she says. “They automatically assume you’re here to get them in trouble.”

The story digs into the dynamics at play: Generally speaking, municipalities across the US have shifted away from hard-ball tactics against parents of truant students. While some still enforce the matter as a criminal offense, most are now “largely abdicating any role” in absenteeism, per the story. The pandemic has intensified the problem—absenteeism has roughly doubled since then—but the issue has “attracted surprisingly little attention from leaders, elected or otherwise, and education coverage in the national media has focused heavily on culture-war fights,” writes Alec MacGillis. Companies like Concentric are attempting to fill the void. Johnson, for example, sees her role as figuring out the challenges of individual families—often one-parent households with low incomes—and trying to find ways to help.

Read full story here


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