Attendance Works began in 2006 when Ralph Smith, then the Sr. Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, asked Hedy Chang to examine, on behalf of the Foundation, whether missing too much school in the early grades was one of the reasons so few low-income children were reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade. This research, which led to the publication, Present, Engaged and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, found that chronically absent students—those who miss 10 percent or nearly a month of school—do worse academically. It also revealed that one in 10 kindergarten and first grade students nationwide miss nearly a month of school each year. In some cities, the rate is as high as one in four elementary students. In some schools, chronic absence affects 50 percent of all of the students. This unsettling reality was being overlooked, however, because schools and districts typically only track average daily attendance (how many students show up to school every day) and truancy (missing school without permission.) Moreover, children living in poverty were four times more likely to be chronically absent than their more affluent peers and the impact on their learning was even greater.
By 2010, Hedy realized there was a need to call national attention to this largely invisible but educationally critical issue. With initial funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Attendance Works was born as a national initiative.
Hedy subsequently coined the term “chronic absence” to differentiate it from truancy and to account for all absences, including excused and unexcused. Once defined, Attendance Works focused local communities, school districts, teachers, and policy-makers on collecting and analyzing data on chronic absence. The next step was urging them to use this information to forge partnerships with families, civic organizations and public agencies to unpack and address common barriers to getting to school, such as lack of access to health care, a safe path to school or bullying, and nurturing a community wide culture of daily attendance in schools.
Over the past seven years Attendance Works has found that chronic absence can be significantly reduced when schools, families and community partners work together to monitor data, promote good attendance and address the hurdles that keep children from getting to school every day.
Attendance Works is an action research project, moving vertically from local environments to national policy-making. Working in over two-dozen school districts, 32 states and in collaboration with 70 national organizations, Attendance Works uses continuous quality improvement to evaluate gaps in knowledge and capacity building. Constant assessment of interventions leads to updated and new tools and approaches in reducing chronic absence.
Attendance Works is a fiscally-sponsored project of Community Initiatives, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our funding comes primarily from foundations and from contracts from school districts and communities seeking technical assistance.