Are schools succeeding in reducing absenteeism?

Schools install laundry facilities to encourage attendance while some students take mental health days
By: | January 21, 2020
Students of color and those living in poverty are overrepresented among the nation’s chronic absentees, District Administration reported last year. (Rubén Rodriguez/Unsplash)Students of color and those living in poverty are overrepresented among the nation’s chronic absentees, District Administration reported last year. (Rubén Rodriguez/Unsplash)

Administrators know attendance is one of the keys to student success in school.

Chicago Public Schools plans to work with nonprofit, A Knock at Midnight, to make home visits, host community meetings and provide other services to prevent truancy at nine high schools, WTTW-TV reported. If the plan is approved by the school board, the nonprofit would receive a $360,000 grant for working with about 900 students through the end of this summer, the station reported.

The attendance program would be part a Chicago Public Schools-University of Illinois at Chicago partnership that provides help to students who may not graduate high school, according to the station.


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Principals play as big a role in attendance as they do in student achievement, according to a new study by Brendan Bartanen, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Education and Human Development.

Using a decade’s worth of statewide data from Tennessee, Bartanen found that “moving from the 25th to 75th percentile in principal value-added decreases student absences by 1.4 instructional days and lowers the probability of chronic absenteeism by 4 percentage points.” This impact is greater in urban and high-poverty schools, according to Bartanen.

In Illinois, a state commission has recommended attendance remain a school success measure though some have called it an unfair metric, according to WJBC-AM.

Studies have shown a whole class loses instructional time when a teacher has to repeat content for a student who had been absent, Phyllis Jordan, editorial director of the Georgetown University think tank, FutureEd, told the station.

“When other children are absent a lot in a classroom, even the kids who show up are not learning as much,” she told WJBC.


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In several cities and states, schools have installed washing machines and dryers to improve attendance rates, particularly among students dealing with unstable housing, District Administration reported in September. Some of the facilities also offer donated items such as socks and deodorant.

Students of color and those living in poverty are overrepresented among the nation’s chronic absentees, a pair of urban educators wrote in DA in last year.

Four key ways to improve attendance include creating an engaging school environment, personal contact with families, integrated attendance systems, and precise record-keeping, say Valerie L. Marsh, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education in New York, and Shaun Nelms, superintendent for educational partnership organizations at East Upper School and East Lower School in Rochester.

Yet, the definition of an excused absence has been expanded in some states. Oregon now allows students to miss school for mental and behavioral health days.

“This takes mental health out of the shadows, and makes people more aware of the issues and less ashamed to talk about mental health,” Jennifer Rothman, senior manager of youth and young adult initiatives at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told DA last year. “It’s showing students that schools value mental health just as much as physical health.”


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