Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

Department

Educational Administration and Leadership

First Advisor

Ronald Hallett

First Committee Member

Linda Skrla

Second Committee Member

Crescentia Thomas

Abstract

The purpose of this qualitative document analysis research study was to explore how public high schools in California create local unexcused absence and truancy policies in similar and different ways. The study used Lipsky’s “street-level bureaucracy” and the American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force’s definition of “zero tolerance policies” in the conceptual framework. Forty-two California public high school handbooks were qualitatively coded and analyzed for the extent to which their disciplinary responses to unexcused absences were aligned with the ideals of zero tolerance. Schools were purposefully selected to maximize contrasts between specific student demographic groups and school enrollment sizes. The demographic groups included schools with: high/low minoritized enrollment, high/low ELL enrollment, and high/low enrollment of students with low socioeconomic statuses. School truancy rates were also included as a descriptor in the analysis.

The findings from this study revealed that schools with higher enrollment sizes tended to employ disciplinary responses to unexcused absences that were more aligned with zero tolerance policies than schools with lower enrollment sizes. Schools with low minoritized enrollment, low ELL enrollment, and low levels of poverty also tended to rely more heavily on zero tolerance responses to unexcused absences. Truancy rates tended to decrease as zero tolerance policies increased, although there was no evidence that the policies themselves were responsible for the increase in attendance. Few examples of comprehensive truancy prevention and intervention programs were found in this study. Schools that did not rely on zero tolerance did not tend to have innovative programs to address the underlying issues of student truancy. The study ends with a discussion on the ways in which strict zero tolerance policies at schools with most students in the social majority are likely perpetuating the issue of students from marginalized backgrounds being disciplined at higher rates than other students. There is also discussion regarding the fact that harsh zero tolerance policies have the potential to put students who need the most help in a further disadvantaged position.

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