Director's Note

Every year, the National Civic League recognizes cities for the extraordinary work they’ve done in building better communities. Just yesterday, the league announced that next year’s All-America City awards will go to the places that best embrace solutions to three barriers to ensuring that kids learn to read well by the end of third grade: the school readiness gap, summer learning loss and chronic absence.

We’re hoping this award will fuel interest among city leaders in the kind of policies and practices we advocate at Attendance Works. To assist cities, we’re releasing this toolkit to guide leaders to the best strategies and practices for improving school attendance.

Take a look and let us know if there’s anything we should add. We welcome new tools, approaches and success stories!

- Hedy Chang

Policy Spotlight

City Leaders Rally Schools, Communities to Improve Attendance

The first step was to look at the data: Nearly one in seven students in the Oakland Unified School District missed 10 percent of the school year. In kindergarten, 17 percent of the students missed that much school. The city’s African American elementary students were three times more likely than white students and twice as likely as Latinos to be chronically absent.

After seeing the dire numbers, Mayor Jean Quan’s Education Cabinet has made reducing chronic absence a policy priority and established a committee to explore how the city can partner with the district and other community stakeholders to improve school attendance. As part of Oakland Unified’s new strategic plan, Superintendent Tony Smith challenged everyone to ask themselves, “As a result of my actions, how many more students are attending school at least 95 percent of the time?”

Five Strategies for Cities:
1. Share/monitor chronic absence data
2. Make attendance a community priority
3. Nurture a culture of attendance
4. Identify/address attendance barriers
5. Advocate for policy and investment

Oakland is only one of the most recent cities to use chronic absence data to inform its policy agenda. In Baltimore, the mayor partnered with the Open Society Institute and the school district to establish a task force three years ago that has helped cut middle school absences in half. In New York City, the mayor’s initiative is finishing up a year-long pilot program that used mentoring, incentive programs and a public awareness campaign concentrated on 25 schools with high levels of chronic absence. Last week, the mayor’s office joined with the school chancellor and health department director to announce an asthma initiative aimed at tackling one of the leading causes of school absences.

Continue reading here.

California Forum Sends Attendance Message Loud and Clear

A policy forum on chronic absence in Sacramento last month brought together state and local policymakers, educators and advocates to explore how California can expand its use of data, particularly on the state’s longitudinal data base, to improve school attendance.

California State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson launched the forum with a succinct explanation of why attendance counts: “For all the focus on school accountability, there’s a basic fact that is often overlooked: Even the best teacher can’t help students who aren’t in the classroom. Frequent absence is a red flag, a sign of trouble ahead.”

Torlakson’s remarks echoed the core message that Attendance Works and its partners in the Chronic Absence and Attendance Partnership have been conveying for the past 18 months. Johns Hopkins University Researcher Bob Balfanz also spoke to the crowd, explaining how chronic absence can predict as early as sixth grade whether a student will drop out.

Continue reading here.

Practice Spotlight
Creating a “Culture of Attendance” in Baltimore 

Diedre Reeder barely needs to look at the class attendance sheets as she makes her rounds at Franklin Square Elementary and Middle School every morning. As the school’s attendance monitor, Reeder says she can simply look in the classroom and see who’s missing.

On most days, that’s not too many kids. Despite the poverty outside the school and the crowded classrooms inside, Franklin Square consistently registers one of the highest attendance rates in Baltimore. A fifth grade classroom crammed with 39 students recently boasted 32 with perfect attendance for the month.

Reeder and her principal, Terry Patton, have created a “culture of attendance,” where students know they are expected to come to school, where parents know they’ll get a call if their children don’t show up and where the community helps tackle barriers to attendance with everything from free dental care to in-school haircuts to clean uniforms.

Continue reading here.

Questions? For more information contact: or
Attendance Works Director Hedy Chang at

Attendance Works would like to express its deep appreciation to the
Annie E. Casey Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for investing in our development and launch as a national initiative.
In addition, we thank The San Francisco Foundation and The California Endowment for supporting our campaign in California.


Issue 4, June 2011

Attendance Works is a national and state initiative that promotes awareness of the important role that school attendance plays in achieving academic success. It aims to ensure that every school in every state not only tracks chronic absence data for its individual students but also partners with families and community agencies to help those children.