Mom's in Jail? I Shouldn't Have Played Hooky...

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An increasing number of cities across the U.S. have uncorked a revolutionary way to improve student performance (drum roll...): make sure they go to school. With a National Education Goals Panel report released last week declaring that the nation is behind schedule in its stated aim to improve schooling, mayors across the country are concluding that you can't learn much or graduate if you don't show up. Thus, more and more cities are taking a get-tough approach to battling poor performance — and arresting kids who play hooky. While the approach is too new to claim major academic victories, it is paying some early dividends. In L.A., for example, an ambitious two-year-old program to arrest truants has produced a 20 percent drop-off in daytime crime committed by high school-age kids.

But some cities are targeting a whole different population for arrest: truants' parents. According to a report in Monday's New York Times, one Alabama parent was recently sentenced to 60 days in prison for failing to police a chronic truant. While these programs have shown some early success, they raise some hefty ethical questions — should we put kids in control of sending their parents to jail? Can the single parent of a grown high school student make his or her child go to school? As with most areas of education reform, there don't seem to be any simple solutions, but one thing remains clear: The U.S. won't become the world leader in education it wants to be until its kids start going to class.