Blog Article

Principal Leadership Makes a Big Dent in Chronic Absence, Study Finds

February 19, 2020

Leadership from principals can have a significant impact on reducing student chronic absence in schools, according to new research.

What’s more, effective principals can have an even larger positive effect on lowering absences in urban and high-poverty schools with high rates of chronic absence.

With two-thirds of states using chronic absence as a school accountability metric, new research has examined how schools can affect student absenteeism. Most look at whether teacher quality can improve attendance (it can). While a large number of research shows that effective principals can indirectly affect student achievement, this analysis is the first to consider how principal leadership affects attendance, notes study author Brendan Bartanen, a researcher at Texas A&M University.

Bartanen drew from 10 years of statewide data for about 3,800 Tennessee principals from the 2006-07 and the 2016-17 school years for his study. He found that when a district replaces a school principal with one that has had success in reducing absences, the result is reduced chronic absence of all students in that school by an average of 0.8 percentage points — or 1.4 days less during a 180-day school year.

This impact from principal leadership on student attendance is similar to the positive effect principal leadership can have on improved achievement.

Assistant Editor Denisa R. Superville interviewed Bartanen for an article published in EdWeek that describes the study. “I think what this study does is it builds a case for a bit of a paradigm shift …We know effective leadership matters. We know it has mattered for student test scores. But it also matters for student attendance,” Bartanen told EdWeek.

Bartanen’s study doesn’t delve into what effective principals are doing to reduce chronic absenteeism. But “principals have a lot of ways they can directly and indirectly tackle student absenteeism,” EdWeek notes. These include the Attendance Works’ Leading Attendance toolkit for principals, outreach and communication with families, hiring and retaining teachers who’ve shown success in reducing chronic absenteeism, and shaping school policies and programs.

“The finding that [effective principals can lead to a reduction in chronic absence] is largest in urban and high -poverty schools matters a lot because those are the places where the baseline absenteeism rates are higher,” Bartanen told EdWeek. “It just reinforces that policies that can both recruit and keep high quality principals in these kinds of environments can be really important if you want to drive improvements in test scores and improvements in student attendance” he said.

Find the full EdWeek article, The Strong Connection Between Effective Principals and Student Attendance.

Find the research published in SAGE journals: Principal Quality and Student Attendance.

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