Addressing Chronic Absenteeism

One high priority we have always had at Lakeside to help students succeed is to emphasize attendance in school. Obviously, a student cannot succeed if he or she is “just not there.” In fact, we used to emphasize that truancy meant students were being irresponsible, skipping school. But is this true?

What are the reasons behind school absenteeism?

We are finding that more students are not attending school for very significant reasons. Here is an article by Elizabeth Rosenberg that identifies the Early Attendance Gap and some of the significant issues surrounding chronic absenteeism.

bigstock_Don_t_Give_Up_8241448Missing school, regardless of the reason, has important repercussions for a student’s education. With every absence, a child falls behind his classmates and is more likely to struggle academically. But once that student has racked up multiple absences, the chances of ever catching up again are slim.

Tracking the Early Attendance Gap

When a student misses 10 percent or more of the school year for excused or unexcused reasons, he or she is considered chronically absent. But just because absences are excused doesn’t mean they aren’t worrisome. Reports estimate that 5 to 7.5 million students every year are chronically absent and come disproportionately from low-income and minority backgrounds. The common reasons they give for staying home are infinitely more complex than just “skipping school”: unreliable transportation, health and dental problems, fear of [violent] conditions inside and outside of school, and insecure housing are all valid excuses keeping students out of the classroom.

It doesn’t take long before these absences translate to major problems for a child’s future. Even when children are chronically absent early on (i.e. in preschool, kindergarten and 1st grade) they are already less likely to graduate from high school than their peers—a discrepancy known as the Early Attendance Gap. The correlation between early education and high school may be surprising, but it’s real: when students miss chunks of their primary education, they are much less likely to read at grade level by the time they enter third grade, which is considered a proven indicator for determining a child’s academic outlook and his chances of graduating from high school.

Every Student, Every Day

Fortunately, awareness about the perils of chronic absenteeism is spreading. On the heels of Attendance Awareness Month, the Department of Education recently launched an initiative to address chronic absenteeism in conjunction with the White House, the Departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services. Every Student, Every Day: A National Initiative to Address and Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism brings together communities, states, and nonprofit, faith and philanthropic organizations to bolster efforts to keep kids healthy and accounted for in the classroom.

“It’s common-sense—students have to be in their classrooms to learn, yet too many of our children, and most often our most vulnerable children, are missing almost a month or more of school every year,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“We are partnering with communities and providing tools to help all of our young people attend school every day, so they are learning the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in school, careers, and life.”

We also need to make schools safe and exciting learning environments

Another important aspect of this discussion is to make schools exciting learning environments, safe for children and teenagers. While I applaud the work of Secretary Duncan, there is so much to assess regarding these initiatives particularly considering the environments that exists in our schools.

Some school environments are not conducive to learning and that needs to be a primary and significant part of this discussion. We have a great deal of work to do on this extremely difficult problem in the lives of our students.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network


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