When it comes to tackling the problem of chronic absenteeism, students who already have a track record of skipping class can be a particularly tough crowd to sway. But a new report out of New York City—where one out of every five students missed a month or more of school last year—suggests an intensive community-wide initiative is gaining ground.
First, some background: chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of the instructional days over the course of an academic year, which amounts to about 18 days in the average district. The national advocacy group Attendance Works considers chronic absenteeism as an early warning system that too many schools, parents and students are failing to heed.
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Compounding the challenge, researchers say, is that the scope of the problem is largely unreported. That's because the statistic typically reported by schools is average daily attendance, which can mask the fact that many students are missing significant amounts of seat time. (I've written previously about some of the reasons why kids say they skip class, and the role motivation can play in their academic success). It's also important to note that it's not just the later grades that matter. A recent Chicago study found absenteeism in preschool contributed to social-emotional developmental delays as well as academic hurdles that students were still trying to overcome years down the road.
Now on to the New York City report, compiled by the Everyone Graduates Centerat Johns Hopkins University, which looked at the impact of a task force created by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2010 to address the city's high rate of school absenteeism. The task force's pilot program was aimed at at-risk students and launched with 25 high-need schools in its first year and has since grown to 100 schools with more than 60,000 students participating. The initiative crafted an intensive network of mentors, support services, staff training, better tracking and sharing of data of individual student attendance, and community outreach—particularly to parents.