Byon May 14, 2008 8:00 AM
One school district in Texas has an interesting mechanism to combating chronic truancy among students: GPS Trackers on the offenders.
This really is a direct outgrowth out of the misguided “No Child Left Behind” act, which places increased pressures upon the schools to ensure that minors at least earn a high-school diploma, even if the reason the student is failing is that they really just don’t care. The programs used to date involve cheapening teaching methods by placing large amounts of focus on standardized tests, and bizarre programs like this new one in Texas that typically always fail to address the real problems plaguing America’s public education system. Namely that most students simply don’t care, and they lack the support infrastructure at home that they need to help them succeed. Note that I’m not blaming the schools for the average students failure, admittedly there are teachers that severely disadvantage their students by showing up to work every day, but they are, in my experience, the minority.
Most people don’t succeed because they don’t want to. Or rather, they don’t want to work hard enough to do what it will take for them to succeed. Myself, who is college educated and did well in High School without ever trying, did not do nearly as well as I could have simply because I didn’t put enough effort into it. It wasn’t until I was graduating from College with my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science that I started to actually feel ready to be a good student. Probably explains why my GPA didn’t quite reach that 3.0 level. I didn’t not want to succeed, but doing well in my classes wasn’t important enough to me early on to do a little more and ensure that success.
And that was in College. In High School, where any student with a decent capability for retention and comprehension is practically guaranteed to do well, it can be really hard to find the motivation to do any of that work. I was lucky, in that my High School offered plenty of honors programs and programs that stressed critical thinking and problem solving more than rote memorization. I’m not sure how those programs have fared since the introduction of the WASL.
As much as I was bored by High School, I still attended every day. I’m sure this was at least partly related to fear of reprisal from my parents, but regardless, I didn’t bother, though looking back I can completely understand why some people did. So Bryan Adams High, largely as an attempt to keep truants from failing out, have begun a program where they get court orders to issue GPS devices to habitual truants, so that the school can know where these kids are, and make sure they’re at school. I suspect that the choice from the judge was the GPS and School, or Juvenile Detention.
The reference in the title trying to liken this to House Arrest isn’t entirely fair, as the students can remove the GPS when school isn’t in session, so it’s not quite the same as the ankle bracelet house-arrest people are required to wear, it’s still has some interesting connotations. For one thing, I would definitely head straight home after school to get rid of the GPS, rather than risk having it on me, and all my movements in the free time being tracked. Apparently, an earlier version of the program used ankle-bracelets, actually, which a State Senator has now likened to “Slave-Chains” so the future of the program is definitely in question.
As with many such programs, the initial focus here, getting kids to go to school so that hopefully you can cram some knowledge in their skulls, is an admirable one. And the removable GPS is a reasonable compromise between giving the student their time, and making sure they’re in school. The problem I see is that many times program like these get expanded far beyond their original scope and intent. Truancy is a crime, though I don’t believe as serious a one as No Child Left Behind makes it, and there should be repercussions for truants. This approach has met with some success, as noted in the New York Times article linked above, and a GPS-based probation for truants is certainly preferable to incarceration. If the program remains a temporary probation, I think that good could come from it. However, someday someone will try to expand it. And even then, is the gain really worth the cost?