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Unclear results for 'no pass, no drive' laws for teens

One way some states have tried to deal with truancy and bad grades among high schoolers is to tie students' academic performance to their ability to drive. According to a recent article in Education Week, 27 states, including Florida, have some form of a "no-pass, no-drive" law on the books. That is the term used by the chief of staff of Education Commission of the States, a group that collects nationwide data about public schools. The chief of staff says that such policies motivate students to come to school and study, because if they do not, the school will take away their driver's license.

While many school counselors support the policy, some experts are less sure no-pass, no-drive works. They point out that there has been only a single study has been undertaken about whether the threat of losing their license really spurs high school students to improve their academic performance. Mostly, supporters of the idea rely on anecdotal evidence, such as students they personally knew whose attendance improved when threatened with the loss of their license.

That study was published in 2000. It looked at counties in Kentucky that implemented such a license-suspension program for students. Between the 1983-84 and 1993-94 school years, counties that had the program closed the dropout gap between themselves and better-performing counties that did not use the program. However, the Kentucky program also included student counseling, which the author of the study admitted may also have been a factor in the reduced dropout rate.

Florida passed a no-pass, no-drive law in 1997. Under the program, students who have a learner's permit can have their eligibility for a license delayed if they have 15 unexcused absences from school in a 90-day period. The program also suspends driver's licenses for unexcused absences. In fiscal year 2010, the sate suspended 5,389 students' licenses for truancy, and sent warnings to 24,090 students using a learner's permit that they were at risk for a delay in getting their license.

Source: Education Week, "'No Pass, No Drive' Laws: Popular But Not Proven," Mary Ann Zehr, January 25, 2011

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