Amid Sobering Stats, New York City Moves on Chronic Absenteeism


A new report found over 87,000 New York City elementary school students missed 10% of the school year in 2012-2013.

The report, released by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, discovered chronic absenteeism to be a problem among the city's 424,000 elementary students, resulting in lower academic success rates. In addition, it has been linked to social issues like homelessness and poverty.

The study found that 23% of K-5 students were chronically absent in 2009 compared to 19% in 2013. While the number is going down, that still leaves 87,000 students who were chronically absent in the 2012-2013 school year.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg put millions of dollars into his effort to reduce chronic absenteeism. A task force was created, as well as an anti-absenteeism ad campaign. While he did succeed in reducing that rate, more still needs to be done.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10%, or 18 days, of the 180-day school year.

Although little information is available on the issue nationwide, a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University did find that 15% of students across several states were chronically absent. And those days add up. The 20% of absent students in Florida ended up missing an entire year of school between first and eighth grade.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is now following in Bloomberg's footsteps. The main effort of his $150 million School Renewal Program to help turn around 94 of the city's struggling schools is to increase student attendance.

According to Kim Nauer, the center's education research director, targeting resources to increase attendance rates would help the city succeed.

"Chronic absenteeism should be an important consideration as the mayor launches expensive new programs, like his promised 100 new community schools," Nauer said.

Community schools have the goal of addressing challenges faced by students outside the classroom, as well as providing counseling, mental health care, and extra food. This model is set to be introduced to some of the city's lowest-income neighborhoods by the de Blasio administration in the hopes of reducing chronic absenteeism.

This model features more parent outreach programs and offers more on-site social services programs to help care for the physical and mental health of low-income students.

The community school model has been proven to reduce the chronic absenteeism rate in other cities such as Cincinnati, Chicago, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"The message to those leading the community schools initiative is loud and clear," the report states. "The incidence of persistent chronic absenteeism strongly corresponds with where deep poverty is most virulent and entrenched in students' lives, where it matches up and contributes to school dysfunction, and where ameliorative social services like those envisioned for the city's new community schools are most badly needed."

Earlier this year, the Department of Education gave $52 million in grants to 40 schools it discovered to have chronic absenteeism issues.

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