Reading the Oregonian articles about the epidemic of student absenteeism in Oregon’s schools, especially at the middle school level, and the strategies being used to combat it, I couldn’t help thinking of the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” And, I couldn’t help adding my own: When the water tastes good, the horse will drink it.
As the principal of a small rural middle school from 1988 to 1997 I remember that student absences were not a problem. I have no way of substantiating that claim except by referring skeptics to teachers who were with me. But I can substantiate that our state test scores in reading and math were strong, and even exceptional when we looked at individual student growth from 3rd grade to 5th grade and, then, to 8th grade,.
Our attendance area included not only stable middle class families, but also a trailer park and families living in poverty. Poverty grew, and eventually approximately 50 percent of our students were on free or reduced price lunches.