Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

December 16th, 2015

Best Practices for Texting Families

Given that 90 percent of families now use cellphones, educators across the country are experimenting with texting as a way to reach parents. Some schools are texting to deliver messages about school attendance. We don’t yet have research to show the efficacy of that approach. But in a blog post in Education Week, Harvard researchers Todd Rogers and Kim Bohling offered some tips for educators who text. Here are five take aways:

  1. Be specific. Text about a student’s absences versus the overall importance of attendance; if possible, suggest an action.
  2. Be personal. Use names and the right personal pronouns.
  3. Be brief. If your texts go longer than 160 characters they may break into two messages.
  4. Be strategic: Don’t bombard families with too many texts. Reserve them for the information you need to share.
  5. Be positive: Be sure to let families know when something is going right. That makes it a little easier when you’ve got bad news to deliver.

Read the full blog post here.

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December 10th, 2015

New Federal Education Law Includes Chronic Absence Tracking, Training

States will be required to report chronic absenteeism rates for schools, and school districts will be allowed to spend federal dollars on training to reduce absenteeism, under a sweeping education bill signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 10.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or No Child Left Behind, represents the first time that federal education law specifically mentions this measure of attendance. Chronic absence differs from truancy in that it tracks both excused and unexcused absences.

Its inclusion reflects the increasing awareness in Washington and across the country that chronic absence is a key indicator for assessing school and student success.

In October, the White House and four federal agencies – Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice – launched the cross sector Every Student, Every Day initiative with a goal of reducing chronic absenteeism by 10 percent a year. And in spring 2016, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will, for the first time, release chronic absence data for schools across the country. The data will show how many students missed 15 days in excused or unexcused absences.

The ESSA measure, crafted by House and Senate negotiators in a conference committee, gives states more power to set their own accountability standards, testing policies and strategies for turning around struggling schools. This Education Week blog post provides lots of helpful detail.

Several states have already begun using chronic absenteeism as an accountability metric. New Jersey, Hawaii and Oregon added the measure through waivers to the prior federal education act. California requires local districts to report on chronic absence in their local funding plans; Connecticut has built it into its school improvement process; and Georgia makes it part of its school climate work.

We hope that more states will take this opportunity to hold schools and districts accountable for chronic absenteeism. The legislation contains two brief, but important mentions of the issue.

In the first instance, chronic absenteeism appears on a list of metrics  (page 47) that must be included on report cards that states submit to the federal government. Under the new law’s language, the information must be broken down by various student subgroups, including racial and ethnic identity and disability status, as well as homeless and foster care students. You’ll notice the same section also calls for tracking suspensions and expulsions, which also contribute to school absenteeism. Here’s the language:

  • ‘‘(viii) Information submitted by the State educational agency and each local educational agency in the State, in accordance with data collection conducted pursuant to section 203(c)(1) of the Department of Education Organization Act (20 U.S.C. 3413(c)(1)), on—
  • ‘‘(I) measures of school quality, climate, and safety, including rates of in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, school-related arrests, referrals to law enforcement, chronic absenteeism (including both excused and unexcused absences), incidences of violence, including bullying and harassment; and

In the second instance, chronic absenteeism appears on a list of professional development topics (page 128) for which schools and districts can use federal dollars to provide training under Title II:

  • ‘‘(iv) addressing issues related to school conditions for student learning, such as safety, peer interaction, drug and alcohol abuse, and chronic absenteeism;

The measure provides no definition of chronic absence, except to say that it includes excused and unexcused absences. Attendance Works and several states define it as missing 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days. The new law says that when states submit their report cards, they must use the federal government’s reporting requirements. Here’s the exact language:

  • “Information submitted by the State educational agency and each local educational agency in the State, in accordance with data collection conducted pursuant to section 203(c)(1) of the Department of Education Organization Act (20 U.S.C. 3413(c)(1)),” 






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December 7th, 2015

How Home Visits Contribute to Better Attendance

Natina Kaih admits she did not want a teacher visiting her home. She was embarrassed by the rough neighborhood where she and her children lived and by the stench of urine in the halls of her apartment building. She didn’t want another person judging her.

So when her Washington, D.C. elementary school offered a home visit, she declined. But her children nagged. The other Stanton Elementary students who had visits from teachers had their pictures posted on the bulletin board. Finally, Kaih relented. When teachers for two of her children arrived at her apartment, they played with her children, and they played with her cat. They asked her what she hoped for her children and how the school could help.

“I didn’t feel looked down on. They didn’t talk at me, they talked with me,” Kaih told educators and advocates gathered last week at the U.S. Department of Education. That first home visit, she said, led to deeper engagement in her children’s education, and it led to better attendance.

“It made it easier to want to send my kids to school, because they were enthused about going to school,” she says.

Kaih and her children are part of an ambitious home visiting and family engagement partnership between the Flamboyan Foundation and 27 D.C. public elementary and charter schools. The Family Engagement Partnership, which builds on the work of the Sacramento-based Parent Teacher Home Visit Project and on the Education Department’s Parent Engagement Framework, also includes academic meetings updating families on their children’s progress and activities for learning at home.

A study released this fall by Johns Hopkins University researchers shows that the approach is having a positive impact: Students whose families receive a home visit had 24 percent fewer absences – or about three fewer days – than similar students who did not receive a home visit. The students with home visits were also more likely to read at or above grade level.

Kristin Ehrgood, president of the Flamboyan Foundation explains the program’s success simply. “Families are experts in their own children,” she says. “Educators are experts in pedagogy…,” she says. We need a true partnership built on respect and trust.”

The comments came at a gathering hosted by the Education Department as part of the federal Every Student, Every Day initiative. The cross-sector initiative — which also involves the White House and departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice – aims to reduce chronic absence by 10 percent annually. In Spring 2016, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights will for the first time release chronic absence data showing how many students miss 15 or more days a year.

The initiative will include efforts to improve data collection, mentoring and other strategies proven to reduce chronic absence. Family engagement remains key to getting students to school everyday.

“I realized that if I did not had trust from my families, they were not going to send their kids to school,” Heather Hairston, principal of C.W. Harris Elementary School in Southeast D.C., said at Friday’s event. When she instituted the family engagement program, her school saw increases in attendance, decreases in truancy and double digital gain in proficiency.

For Natina Kaih, that first home visit years ago set the tone for her involvement – and her children’s success – at Stanton Elementary School. Her children are now in middle school and reaping the benefits of that early engagement, she says. As proof, she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. It’s a certificate showing that her daughter is reading above grade level. “My attitude didn’t change overnight,” she acknowledges, “but it started with that first visit.”



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