Hedy Chang is the Executive Director of Attendance Works, whose mission is to advance student success and reduce equity gaps by reducing chronic absence. She joins EDU to encourage district superintendents to sign the Superintendents Call to Action.
This fall, Attendance Works and nine national organizations are reaching out to District Superintendents and inviting them to prioritize an increasingly urgent issue: chronic absenteeism.
While many people understand the critical connection between school attendance and achievement, far too many don’t realize how quickly a child’s absences from school adds up. Surveys suggest that families want their children to succeed and recognize that regular attendance is important. But few realize how missing just a few days each month can interfere with learning and throw a child off track academically.
Chronic absenteeism occurs when, within the academic year, a child misses 10% or more of school – as little as two days per month. Research shows that starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, students who are chronically absent struggle to read by the end of 3rd grade. By middle school, they are more likely to drop out of high school.
At least 8 million students, or more than 15% of students nationwide, are chronically absent, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education for the 2015-16 school year.
Why do so many students miss school? The reasons are varied, and include unaddressed chronic health issues, unreliable transportation, bullying or feeling alienated by an unwelcoming school climate, or problematic school discipline practices.
Working together with community partners, district-level Superintendents can help motivate students and families to avoid unnecessary absences and overcome challenging barriers to getting to school.
This year, with the Superintendents Call to Action we are asking local Superintendents to:
- Prioritize Attendance, by making it clear that that reducing chronic absence is a top priority, and asking their principals, teachers and school board members to make it one of theirs, as well.
- Mobilize the Community, by involving key stakeholders in positive problem solving rather than punitive action and blame, which are not proven to be effective. Superintendents can call for engaging families through positive messaging and offering supports as soon as absences start to add up to too much lost instructional time.
- Drive Action with Data, by using local chronic absence data to monitor and address chronic absence as soon as it becomes a problem. Local Superintendents can analyze data – by grade, school and sub-population— to find out and publicize where resources are needed the most and to set shared targets for improvement.
While everyone can help ensure students show up to class every day, the leadership role that a Superintendent plays is irreplaceable. District Superintendents are uniquely positioned to tap civic and elected leaders, businesses and libraries, health providers, housing authorities, volunteers and other partners to help develop and implement a shared plan of action that reflects local resources and challenges.
If you’re a Superintendent, sign the Call to Action! Last year, 620 leaders from districts large and small—located in 41 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Island—signed the Call.
Sign the Call to Action on the Superintendents page on our website.
To learn more about why reducing chronic absence is so critical, read Attendance: The New Equity Frontier, an interview with Hedy Chang.