Blog Article

White House Hosts Briefing on Chronic Absence

September 15, 2015

Attendance Works was honored to be included last week in a White House briefing on chronic absence for funders sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Strategic  Partnerships. The meeting reflected the growing recognition that poor attendance is a key early warning sign that students are headed for academic trouble.

Officials from the White House’s Domestic Policy Council and My Brother’s Keeper initiative, along with U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his deputy, opened up the gathering of federal officials and philanthropic leaders at the Sept. 9 event: Chronic Absenteeism Challenge in Our Nation’s Schools.

The federal government’s interest in chronic absence comes at an important time. Next spring, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights will report for the first time on how many students in districts across the country are missing 15 or more days of school for any reason. It will allow a nationwide look at how many students may be academically at risk because of too many absences.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Johns Hopkins researcher Robert Balfanz outlined what we know about the scope of chronic absence and its pernicious effect on students and schools, while Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund told how the problem disproportionately affects our most vulnerable children. Edelman highlighted the importance of working at the community level so we can fully understand the challenges these children face and identify what they need to get to school.

Jeff Levi of the Trust for America’s Health described how health problems — such as asthma, dental pain and mental health issues – are among the leading causes of absenteeism. He explained the broader health consequences of absenteeism: People who complete their schooling will lead healthier lives, and kids who are not healthy cannot learn.

Attendance Works Director Hedy Chang spoke to the group about solutions that work. She emphasized a three-tiered approach to intervening on absenteeism – starting with universal strategies for all students before moving into more focused efforts with at-risk student oand support from community partners for the most vulnerable children. She also shared the executive summary for the Mapping the Early Attendance Gap brief we released with Healthy Schools Campaign, which reinforces the connection between good health and good attendance.

The meeting created an opportunity for participants to explore how they might work together to put in place a comprehensive approach to improving attendance. Ideas discussed include universal supports such as a major messaging campaign informed by Ad Council research and  texting to amplify communications between schools and families.

For students who need more support, the group discussed the potential to scale up an intensive mentoring program similar to the Success Mentors initiative in New York City. Rochelle Davis of Healthy Schools Campaign described how schools and health providers could work together to scale up school-based and health supports.

Funders from foundations large and small were engaged and open to exploring how addressing chronic absence might advance and complement their existing  investments. This gathering informed the Education Department and other federal agencies as they prepare to announce a national initiative to reduce chronic absence given its critical importance for ensuing young children of color have an equal opportunity to be in school so they can learn.






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