The Obama administration has announced a new campaign focused on addressing the problem of chronic absenteeism in the nation’s schools.
Research has shown that students who are absent over 10% of the year, or about 18 days in most school districts, are set up to struggle academically and many drop out completely. Chronic absenteeism is affecting approximately 5 to 7.5 million children per year and many districts have not tackled the problem effectively, reports Emma Brown of The Washington Post.
The new idea from the White House, called “Every Student, Every Day”, will assist districts in identifying the children who are missing school too often and will help schools discover what type of help these kids need.
“Great teachers matter, great principals matter, but they can’t work their magic if our babies aren’t in school,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said at an event announcing the initiative at Patterson Elementary School in the District.
Also part of the initiative are Julián Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Broderick D. Johnson, who heads President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative; and John King Jr., who will serve as education secretary when Arne Duncan steps down in December.
Dedicated education advocates have been saying for years that poor attendance is directly linked to student achievement and comprehensive community efforts. They believe that schools, nonprofits, social workers, and community health organizations will be needed in the effort to improve student attendance.
One of the best moves to come out of the new campaign, says Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University, a key researcher in the field, is the publishing of absenteeism figures in 2016. This, he believes will force education officials to begin recognizing the problem. He adds that this will be the “lightning bolt.”
School reform has resulted in myriad techniques to help students learn, but none of these innovations will work for children who are not in class. Even though many districts are required to report their average daily attendance, this calculation may not give the information needed. A school can look like it is doing well, but the measurement can fail to point out children who are repeatedly missing class. Even tracking truancy can miss the students with a large number of excused absences.
Another step that should be taken, according to the new plan, is for districts to rewrite discipline policies to eliminate punitive consequences such as suspensions and expulsions for students who are repeatedly absent. A more effective action to take is to find the reason why these students are absent so often, writes Jennifer C. Kerr, reporting for The Associated Press.
The answer for some children could be a pairing with a mentor; for homeless students, the school could connect to local services that could support the child and his or her family.
“We have to be thoughtful and careful to provide structure and support, rather than suspend or punish students who are struggling to make it to school every day,” said King. “It sends the wrong message to tell a student who is not coming to school that they are unwelcome.”
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation plans to give $1 million to support the new initiative.
The campaign is a part of Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative and aims directly at the country’s most vulnerable children, who are missing almost a month or more of school each year. The campaign will, for the first time, gather information from the Civil Rights Data Collection and will hold a summit in the spring of 2016 to help communities come up with strategies for change, says NBC News’ Maya Chung.
My Brother’s Keeper movement has challenged cities and towns to take on a “cradle-to-college-and-career strategy for improving the life outcomes of all young people.” Some communities are doing just that. The “Show Up, Stand Out” program in Washington, D.C. is helping minority students in elementary and middle school drop their absentee rates and the impact, according to educators, is measurable.