Alexandria Echo Press
With the new school year started, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar held a news conference recently with Minnesota education leaders to announce that she will be introducing the “Student Attendance Success Act” to help schools better address the challenge of truancy, especially for students in the middle-school years.
Citing the need for more effective federal support of the nation’s K-12 schools, Klobuchar also called for significant reform of the No Child Left Behind law, which is up for reauthorization by Congress this year.
As Hennepin County Attorney, Klobuchar started a major anti-truancy initiative to keep kids in the classroom and out of the courtroom. Her office worked closely with local schools on a faster, more effective response to truancy problems.
“As county attorney for eight years,” Klobuchar said, “I saw firsthand the importance of school attendance. Truancy is sometimes called the ‘kindergarten of crime’ because it’s an early risk factor for many other kinds of trouble, including criminal behavior. I believe that reducing truancy is one of the surest ways to prevent crime, keep our communities safe and help our young people succeed in life.”
Klobuchar said that, while there are many federal programs focused on the issue of high school dropouts, there was nothing about middle schools (roughly grades 5 through 9), which is where truancy problems typically develop.
Klobuchar said her “Student Attendance Success Act” has three main elements:
•It would create a competitive grant program through the U.S. Department of Education for school districts with a documented history of significant truancy in grades 5 through 9. These schools would be required to work in partnership with community-based groups and social service agencies.
•It would require the U.S. Department of Education to adopt a uniform definition for truancy for its national data collection efforts. Currently, states are required to report truancy rates on a school-by-school basis. But the data have little value because definitions of truancy vary greatly from state to state and even from school to school.
•It would direct the U.S. Department of Education to establish a National Truancy Resource Center to serve as a clearinghouse for schools, administrators, parent- teacher associations and community groups to learn about innovative and best practices for improving student attendance and preventing truancy.
The Student Attendance Success Act is cosponsored with North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, and Klobuchar said she wants it included in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.
During the spring, Klobuchar and her staff held a series of 27 public forums throughout the state to hear the views of educators, parents, students and concerned citizens about No Child Left Behind.
“No Child Left Behind was intended to improve student performance and reduce achievement disparities by setting higher standards and stricter accountability for schools,” said Klobuchar. “Instead, it has turned into an underfunded federal mandate that often seems designed to penalize schools and students, rather than to support them.”
Klobuchar said that, after listening to Minnesotans, she has several clear priorities for reforming No Child Left Behind. In addition to a greater focus on middle-school truancy, she wants the law to:
•Create more sensible accountability measures that track a student’s progress over time.
•Incorporate a better understanding of the differences between rural and smaller school districts and their larger, urban counterparts.
•Better accommodate children in special education and with limited English proficiency, who need appropriate standards and fair assessment tools.
•Use “carrots” instead of just “sticks” to promote schools improvement.
“Minnesotans told me repeatedly that the federal law is overly punitive and too quick to rate schools as failures,” said Klobuchar. “A hand up is a lot better than a shove down.”
She added, “High expectations are good for our students, and strong accountability is good for our schools. But to get the job done, we need to make sure that No Child Left Behind is measuring the right things and providing the resources to do it.”