The White House and the Education Dept. launch a new effort to combat chronic K-12 school absenteeism, calling on states and communities to take immediate action and reduce chronic absenteeism by at least 10% this year.
Led by the White House and the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice, the initiative outlines steps to eliminate chronic non-attendance.
The initiative targets the estimated 5-7.5 million students chronically absent each year. Defined as missing at least 10% of school days (approximately 18 days) over a school year, chronic absenteeism puts students at heightened risk of both falling behind and dropping out of school. In tackling the issue, states and communities ultimately boost student success and strengthen the nation’s workforce and future prosperity.
DoEd releases the “Community Toolkit to Address and Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism,” which will provide community stakeholders with information and resources to help ensure that all young people are in school. Steps include”
- Step 1: Generate and act on absenteeism data. Prioritize the development of early warning prevention and intervention systems that identify students who are, or are at risk of becoming, chronically absent before they miss enough school that it is nearly impossible for them to catch up.
- Step 2: Create and deploy positive messages and measures. Focus on developing positive messages for youth and families as well as implementing supportive engagement strategies. For instance, these strategies may include mentoring, counseling, and creating safe and supportive school climates to improve students’ attendance at, connection to, and success in school. Punitive messages and measures are often ineffective and can lead to disproportionate suspensions and expulsions from school and inappropriate referrals of students and families to law enforcement.
- Step 3: Focus communities on addressing chronic absenteeism. Launch local initiatives to raise public awareness about the causes and effects of chronic absenteeism, including awareness among families and youth. Prioritize training within communities and across sectors.
- Step 4: Ensure responsibility across sectors. Regularly communicate that chronic absenteeism is a problem that affects the whole community, not just those students who are chronically absent and their families. Drive and evaluate cross-sector performance, at least in part, based on that principle. Education, health, housing, and justice system leaders should work together to ensure shared accountability within and across sectors to successfully address the local, underlying causes of chronic absenteeism.
“As a nation, we must acknowledge that frequent absences from school can be devastating to a child’s future,” according to a DoEd Dear Colleague letter circulated by the DoEd. “For example, children who are chronically absent in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade are much less likely to read at grade level by the third grade. Students who cannot read at grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely than proficient readers to drop out of high school.”