Strategies to Overcome School Truancy in 2022

Truancy is a continuing problem for schools across the US. In the three largest school districts, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, truancy rates ranged between 1.3 and 2.3% (students missing at least 10% of classes for unauthorized reasons).

Although these percentages may seem small, some studies show that school dropouts can cost society $200,000 per student in social care, medical, legal, and other expenses. More importantly, these absences indicate lives that are potentially going awry during children’s formative years.

School truancy has negative implications for school budgets, family cohesion, and society. When students are truant, it usually indicates a lack of engagement, problems at home, bullying, or socialization difficulties. Fortunately, some strategies can help mitigate this problem.

This article will look at three different approaches, focusing on Data Analysis, Parental Support, and Incentivization.

Strategy One – Perform a Truancy Audit

The business world leverages data every day to spot trends, risks, and opportunities. Education can borrow a trick or two from commercial data wranglers. By looking at trends in truancy, patterns may emerge which indicate areas of particular concern.

Is truancy more common at certain times of the school year? For specific classes? Do truants reside in the same underprivileged or wealthy neighborhoods? Is peer pressure a factor? Data analysis can help administrators answer these questions.

On an individual level, platforms like Attendance and At-Risk powered by TrueCare™ warn students at risk of repeated truancy before it becomes a significant issue. It allows early intervention, potentially helping students combat the problem without hurting their learning potential.

Data analysis could be the first stage of a school’s commitment to tackle this perennial problem.

Strategy Two – Enlist Parental Support

Parents can do a lot to prevent truancy by promoting a positive education attitude at home. Even where parents had poor educational experiences, truancy rates tend to decrease if they can be encouraged to promote school attendance.

Programs where parents are actively informed about their children’s learning and why, can prove helpful. In Los Angeles, a ‘Parent University program held workshops for parents to navigate the school system and understand why regular attendance is vital.

In Washington DC, the ATTEND program (Abating Truancy Through Engagement and Negotiated Dialogue) diverts parents from prosecution for failure to prevent absenteeism, focusing on an educative and social support model. Prosecuting parents for their children’s truancy doesn’t work because it breeds resentment and addresses underlying social inequities.

School districts should help parents access psychological and financial assistance programs so that disadvantaged homes are appropriately supported.

Here are some of how parents can help

  • Join in with school mentoring programs, PTAs, and other volunteer functions
  • Talk with their children about their relationships with other students and teachers
  • Maintain regular contact with school administrators regarding attendance
  • Consider dropping off and picking up children daily, perhaps with carpooling
  • Encourage timetabled sports and activities outside of school
  • Where truancy is recurrent despite parents’ best efforts, consider family counseling.

School districts should avoid demonizing parents who fail to monitor their children’s attendance since societal, financial, and circumstantial factors contribute.

However, neither should teachers be called upon to police their students’ attendance. Social services have a role in promoting engagement and providing an alternative to law enforcement solutions. As with all persistent social ills, empathy is critical.

Strategy Three – Incentivize Students

It may seem an obvious point, but if school districts can make the educational environment more welcoming and inclusive, students will attend more frequently.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students have had to deal with a lot of uncertainty surrounding in-person and distance learning. Some homes are disadvantaged by not having an environment conducive to study. A 2021 McKinsey report found that “the impact of the pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant, leaving students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year”.

Students have been shouldering more than their fair share of educational challenges in 2020-21. Finding ways to make school attendance more desirable and stable is more vital than ever.

The strategies that help incentivize students tend to fall into two categories – things to avoid (the stick) and techniques to try (the carrot).

To be Avoided

  • Reducing student grades based on poor attendance
  • Ignoring at-risk behaviors and early warning signs
  • Punishing truancy with suspensions or exclusion
  • Giving up on poorly attending students

Techniques to Try

  • Prizes, discounts, and awards for good and excellent attendance
  • Visits from inspiring local figures – sports stars, musicians, scientists
  • Certificates of attendance that students can take home
  • School outings for entertainment and education (which students choose)
  • Well-run after-school programs, sports clubs, dances, and more
  • Actively working to make classes more interactive and fun
  • Promoting a zero-tolerance approach to bullying
  • Having supportive and empathic pastoral care available to all

The latter two points are incentives because they make the school environment safe. Safety is paramount in educational backgrounds, and it extends beyond traditional physical notions of health and safety.

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Students from racial minorities or ethnicities and LGBTQ students need to feel seen, listened to, understood, and included. In other words, they need to think that school is a safe space. A study from the University of Austin promoted four solutions for creating a safe environment for LGBTQ students (but it could apply to any marginalized group):

  • Inclusive, enumerated policies
  • School support personnel and training
  • Student-led clubs
  • Access to related resources and curricula


We’ve briefly looked at three different approaches to the truancy problem. These are not intended as alternatives; instead, when used in tandem, data analysis, parental support, and school incentives work together to make truancy a less desirable option for students finding their way in the world.

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