3 ways the Department of Education wants states to address absenteeism

"We know that one of the most important things we can do to help our students learn is to make sure they come to school consistently and make our families and communities strong partners in this effort," writes U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Between 2018 and 2022, chronic absenteeism rates nearly doubled across all district types (high, middle and low achievement). Fast-forward to 2024, schools continue to experience the pandemic’s lingering effects on attendance.

That’s the concern outlined in a dear colleague letter issued last week by the U.S. Department of Education directed toward state school officers. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona says a variety of factors have contributed to this increase in absenteeism rates, including student disengagement, lack of access to support and family health challenges.

Despite this, he argues, state and local education agencies can “set the foundation” for strong local responses.

“We know that one of the most important things we can do to help our students learn is make sure they come to school consistently and make our families and communities strong partners in this effort,” he writes.

He celebrates recent efforts from school districts that have implemented innovative strategies to tackle this issue. In the Fort Worth Independent School District, for instance, they’ve hired 100 family engagement specialists using American Rescue Plan funds to improve attendance for nearly 3,000 students.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District as well, they’ve conducted more than 19,300 home visits in an effort to build trusting relationships with families, which has reduced the district’s chronic absenteeism rates by more than a third.

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“Research suggests that children who are chronically absent for multiple years between preschool and third grade are much less likely to read at grade level by the third grade,” Cardona writes. “This has been shown elsewhere to make students four times more likely to not graduate from high school. Chronic absenteeism can also further disengage students from their learning and connections with their peers and with other caring adults.”

With that said, Cardona is calling on states to commit to three strategies that will result in a more engaged student body:

  1. Identify schools and leverage accountability systems/award federal school improvement funds: States can enhance their accountability systems by partnering with local colleges and universities or their Department Regional Education Lab to examine data and ensure chronic absenteeism plays a key role in school identification.
  2. Leverage Department resources and training: States can utilize the Department’s Student Engagement and Attendance Center to design evidence-based strategies aimed at improving attendance. This includes practices like home visits, improving school-family communications and connecting education leaders with critical resources.
  3. Invest remaining ARP funds: Prioritize evidence-based strategies and leverage the Department’s guidance on how to use ARP funds in ways that may benefit from liquidation extensions.

“Continued improvement in regular attendance over the last two school years shows that our investments, your leadership, and our collective commitment to and investment in our students are working,” Cardona concludes.

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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