Attendance Works News

September 28th, 2016

NCFL Boosts Attendance, Family Bonds and Literacy in SW Detroit

Throughout the country students who miss the most school often come from our more vulnerable populations: English Language learners, children with disabilities and students eligible for free or reduced-price meals. screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-10-06-47-amIt can be tough to address the barriers families with these challenges face when trying to get their children to be in school every day. The National Center for Families Learning (NCFL)’s family literacy model has seen success in bringing together families to build relationships that lead to improved attendance while boosting reading and writing skills.

In southwest Detroit the NCFL’s Family Literacy program is doing just that as part of a Social Innovation Fund project with partners Southwest Counseling Solutions and United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Detroit leads the nation with almost 58 percent of students chronically absent in 2013-2014. Today the increased connection to school and community experienced by families participating in the program has had a positive impact on student attendance. For the 66 children participating in the Southwest Detroit Family Literacy Program, students attended 369 more days of school than comparison children. This comes to more than two additional weeks of instruction over their comparison peers. When parents participated in the program, their children had a higher rate of attendance
(96.89 percent) than comparison children whose families were not involved (92.63 percent).

The Southwest Detroit NCFL program involves mostly Hispanic, low income, English language learner families with children. The model is a family-centered approach to education with four components: Adult Education, Child Education, Parent Time and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®. In the Parent Time classes, family members learn parenting skills, increase their understanding of child development, and support each other in their growth as parents. NCFL’s two-generation approach strengthens the bonds between parents and their children to help those who are most at risk of failing economically, emotionally, and socially.

Detroit parent Brenda Cienfuegos says her participation in the NCFL program has helped her daughters feel more comfortable in school. “My oldest daughter Emily had been crying for the past two years because she didn’t want to go to school and I had a hard time taking her to school every day. When I started the program she changed completely. Emily felt safe and she was content knowing that I was at school. This was as reassuring to her as it was to me,” Cienfuegos says.

“It might sound wrong to say it, but it was through this program that I learned more about my daughters. [During] parent time in the classroom I learned certain topics that lead me to understand my daughters better. … I was able to apply what I had learned to help them instead of reprimanding them. This is why I feel that our relation grew stronger,” Cienfuegos adds.

In Detroit the programs are held in classrooms in four public elementary schools. Each day, parents attend classes on site, learning English using a vocabulary that corresponds to the subjects the students are learning in school. For example, parents might learn about cause and effect so they are able to talk with their children about their schoolwork. Parents also spend 30 minutes each day in their child’s classroom, interacting with their kids and engaging in classroom activities.

The final piece of the Detroit program, Family Service learning, brings parents and children together to develop a service project to benefit their community. Families begin by looking around their community to see where there is a gap. With their children’s input, the family investigates what solutions could help, and they all develop a plan. Project development involves computer skills, research, and writing and reading skills, all which improve literacy.

One Detroit family noticed the number of homeless people living on the streets, developed a plan to sew blankets and collect cloths to donate, and finally spent a day preparing food at a local homeless shelter. As families complete projects they become connected to resources in their community, and to leaders in their community, and they become leaders in their school and other groups they have joined.

During the parent education classes, there is a lot of discussion about the importance of attending school every day, There are times when a parent might miss a day or two and they feel uncomfortable coming back, and they often miss another day and fall farther behind. Program leaders help parents understand that the children might have those same sorts of feelings when they miss school, and nudge them to see how much learning they miss when they aren’t in class.

NCFL’s model has found success with lower income families throughout the U.S., including Native American, African American and white families.

Since 1989, NCFL has helped more than two million families make educational and economic progress by continuously developing, implementing, and documenting innovative and promising two-generation practices, networks, and learning tools. To learn more, visit NCFL’s website or contact Sharon Darling at

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September 8th, 2016

Press Release: New Report Shows Chronic Absenteeism Concentrated in 4% of Districts

SAN FRANCISCO, September 6, 2016 – Nine out of 10 U.S. school districts experience some level of chronic absenteeism among students, but half of the nation’s chronically absent students are concentrated in just 4 percent of its districts, according to a new analysis of federal data.

Preventing Missed Opportunity, released on Tuesday, September 6, by Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center underscores how this often overlooked factor is dragging down achievement in communities everywhere – from sprawling suburban places where absenteeism can fester in the shadow of academic achievement to small rural communities where geography complicates getting to school. Disadvantaged urban neighborhoods are particularly hard hit, according to this study of the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

“What’s clear from our analysis is that chronic absenteeism follows poverty wherever it is found in significant concentrations,” said Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who leads the Everyone Graduates Center.

Many of the communities with the highest rates are economically, socially and racially isolated. An interactive data map shows a snapshot of some of the districts most affected.

“Chronic absence is one of the earliest signs that we are failing to provide an equal opportunity to learn,” said Chang, executive director of Attendance Works and co-author of Preventing Missed Opportunity: Taking Collective Action to Confront Chronic Absence. “A day lost to school absenteeism is a day lost to learning.”

The study, released in connection with Attendance Awareness Month in September, builds on June’s first-ever release of chronic absence data in the 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection.

The data showed that 6.5 million students, or more than 13 percent nationwide, missed three or more weeks of school in excused or unexcused absences that year. That’s enough time to erode their achievement and threaten their chance of graduating. More than half of those chronically absent students are in elementary or middle school. Some gaps in the data suggest the numbers may be an undercount.

“Our analysis shows that large numbers of chronically absent students can be reached in a relatively small number of districts and schools,” said Balfanz, co-author of the analysis. “This tells us we need to combine widespread awareness of the importance of addressing chronic absenteeism with high intensity, community wide, comprehensive efforts in the small number of highly impacted school districts. This is how we can make chronic absenteeism rare rather than common.”

Further analysis of the data revealed:

  • 89 percent of the nation’s school districts report some level of chronic absence. This ranges from two chronically absent students in one district to 72,376 in another.*
  • Half the chronically absent students, however, are found in just 4 percent of the nation’s school districts and 12 percent of its schools. These 654 districts are spread across 47 states and the District of Columbia.
  • This trend of large numbers of chronically absent students affecting a handful of districts also holds true for states. In fact, 10 percent of the chronically absent students nationwide can be found in just 30 districts in two states with very large student populations, California and Texas.
  • Some of the places with the largest numbers of chronically absent students are affluent, suburban districts known for academic achievement. For example, Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va., two suburbs of Washington, D.C., each have more than 20,000 chronically absent students. While their rates are close to the national average, the large numbers reflect both the sheer size of the districts and their growing populations of low-income students.
  • Districts serving disadvantaged urban neighborhoods have both high rates and high numbers of chronically absent students. Cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit report that more than a third of students are chronically absent. The concentration of intergenerational poverty in these communities of color and the web of systemic challenges families encounter – not enough affordable housing, poor access to health care, absence of well-resourced schools, too much exposure to violence and environmental pollutants – all complicate school attendance. Punitive school discipline practices such as overuse of suspension also can contribute to absenteeism as well as to community distrust of schools.
  • Many small, rural school districts have few students but extremely high rates of chronic absenteeism. Transportation and other challenges related to poverty can keep students from getting to school regularly in remote areas. For example, 31 percent of the 504 students in Arkansas’ Bradford School District missed three or more weeks of school. So did 31 percent of the 2,752 students in Alabama’s Colbert County School District. Washington state reports that 119 of its districts have rates of 30 percent or greater.

Given the scope of the problem, the study by Balfanz and Chang lays out key steps school districts and states can take to turn around attendance. State and local leaders need to know the size of their chronic absence problem to understand how to improve educational outcomes. Information about the concentration and the severity of absenteeism also sheds light on the intensity and nature of support required.

“Leaders can use chronic absence data to engage students, families, community organizations and government agencies in unpacking barriers to getting to school and crafting solutions,” Chang said. “The federal Every Student Succeeds Act offers a critical opportunity for building chronic absence into the school accountability systems used to measure progress and identify where additional support is needed to improve student performance.”

Featuring success stories in communities such as San Francisco and Grand Rapids, Mich., as well as states like Arkansas and Connecticut, the brief shows chronic absence is a solvable problem. It also shares how communities are tackling chronic absence through efforts like the U.S. Department of Education’s My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentors initiative and Diplomas Now.

“The challenge and opportunity of improving attendance is to avoid making the all too common, incorrect assumption that chronically absent students and their parents simply do not care. Instead of blame, schools should use chronic absence as a trigger for collective, strategic, creative problem solving,” Chang said.

*Note: This analysis was developed prior to data corrections submitted to the OCR for Florida and New York City. Nonetheless, we believe these gaps do not change the overall patterns and suggest the overall levels of students missing 15 or more days are an underestimate.

Download the full Brief here.
View the online data map.

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August 15th, 2016

Families in Schools Engages Parents with Its Attendance Toolkit

Parents in every city in the U.S. want their children to do well in school but many don’t fully understand the connection between chronic absence and a student’s academic achievement. To address this discrepancy, Families In Schools (FIS) has created a toolkit to engage parents in improving attendance for students.

The Importance of Attendance Toolkit: Facilitator’s Guide was developed to provide school and agency staff with best practices and strategies for engaging parents. The toolkit is centered on staff facilitated workshops with parents, as short as 10 minutes or as long as 45 minutes. The goal of a workshop is to help parents develop a better understanding of how chronic absence can impact a child’s achievement, by identifying who is affected by poor attendance in the early grades, by learning how attendance affects a child’s ability to read at grade level, and enabling parents to explore strategies for ensuring or improving a child’s attendance.

FIS supports strong family-school partnerships through its many programs aimed at parent engagement for families. FIS provides programs and professional development to help build skills, knowledge and the confidence of both parents and school or agency staff on how to work together to support student achievement.

The organization also partners with the Campaign For Grade Level Reading on programs to encourage students and families to read together and to read more often. All of the FIS programming targets low-income and underserved communities with the understanding that access to quality education continues to be the gateway out of poverty.

“We recognize parents as having assets, who come to the table with set of knowledge and a set of skills and expertise around their own child. Parents are the child’s first and foremost teacher. So all of our curriculum is centered around accessing what the parent already knows and going from there,” said Tina Ochoa, Curriculum & Professional Development Manager with FIS. “We are assuming that parents understand that attendance is important but they may not understand how crucial it is to student achievement. Our workshop modules enable a partnership between parents and staff and help parents to dig deeper into the consequences of poor attendance.”

The toolkit was developed in partnership with Attendance Works. FIS developed some interactive activities around content found on the Attendance Works’ website, and revised it slightly so it is more relevant for families across the state. The two organizations co-created it as a Facilitator’s Guide to ensure that preparing for and implementing the modules is as easy as possible.

For each module, the guide includes recommended seating arrangements, a short list of materials needed, and interactive exercises to promote discussion between the facilitator (or staff) and the parents. The step-by-step design provides the facilitator with all of the necessary information, tips, worksheets and materials for each module.

Last fall, FIS sponsored a session in Los Angeles with 20 participants who returned to their school or agency and implemented the module with their prospective parents. The feedback about the toolkit was completely positive, including comments about the materials, varied module times, interactive exercises and written questions.

After the session one participant wrote, “The most useful part was learning to support the parents in recognizing their role [in improving student attendance].”

To learn more about The Importance of Attendance Toolkit: Facilitator’s Guide, email Families In Schools at

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