With all that's been going on in the presidential election recently, I haven't been focusing much attention on education. It turns out that I'm not alone in not looking to the schools. According to a report by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, 20 percent of New York City public school elementary school students missed more than a month of school last year. That's 90,000 students who each missed more than 20 days of school. Incredible. The problem is even worse for middle and high school students. Unsurprisingly, the problems are concentrated mostly in Harlem, Central Brooklyn, and the South Bronx. Most of the disturbing trends in New York City public schools are concentrated in those neighborhoods.
In the New York Times article I linked to above, "city officials" put most of the blame on school principals who are supposed to manage and deal with chronic absenteeism. There may be some merit in blaming the principals. The real blame, though, I think has to lie with parents. Ultimately, they are the ones who are responsible for their children's lives. They are the ones who need to make sure the kid gets to school.
Just thinking back on my own academic record, I think that I probably didn't miss much more than 20 days of school during my entire schooling. Going to school was just something you did. It wasn't an option. You just went to school. That was the value that my parents had and they made sure that it was the value that I had. They were good parents.
A parent who allows their child to miss a month of school during a single year is not a good parent. That's the bottom line. Being a parent is about giving your child the opportunities to have the best possible life. Allowing them to miss that much school effectively undermines that goal. It shows that education is not valued. It shows that consistency and attendance and punctuality (all skills that are valued in the job market) are not valued. The city can blame principals if it wants. But the real blame lies much closer to home.