Getting children off to school in the morning can be tough. Challenges like unreliable transportation, housing insecurity, or recurring health issues for either children or parents are some of the major barriers that keep students away from the classroom.
What is less known is that chronic absenteeism (missing two school days or more every month) can impact learning, starting as early as preschool.
At the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Education program supports efforts to address early chronic absenteeism as one key lever to help improve educational outcomes for all children. As part of this strategy, the Foundation supports Attendance Works, an organization that partners with schools, parents, and communities across the country to act early and provide support before poor attendance causes learning loss.
Attendance Works and other partners recently engaged 803 superintendents from school districts throughout the country to sign onto the Superintendents Call to Action. The campaign shows superintendents’ commitment to prioritize attendance, mobilize the community, and use data to drive decision-making around this issue. It also offers online resources for district leaders to build the capacity of schools and community partners to tackle this solvable problem.
“The key to reducing chronic absence is to engage in positive problem-solving rather than punitive action,” Attendance Works’ Executive Director Hedy N. Chang explains. “This includes engaging students and families in identifying what makes getting to school barriers to attendance and developing meaningful solutions tailored to local realities and assets. We are thrilled that so many superintendents recognize the critical role they play in ensuring all students, especially the most vulnerable, are in school so they can benefit from what is taught in the classroom.”
According to the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, nearly eight million students missed 15 or more days of school during the 2015-2016 academic year. This figure does not include children in preschool, but research from the Chicago Public Schools suggests that preschool rates of chronic absenteeism are even higher than students in grades K-12.
Chronic absence contributes to equity gaps because it typically starts at earlier ages for the most vulnerable students, whose families have the least resources to make up for the lost learning time.
A common misconception is that since these students are young, missing school doesn’t matter. In fact, preschoolers who are chronically absent arrive at kindergarten with lower levels of school readiness skills, are less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade, and are more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school. The good news is that many of these early absences can be avoided when data is used to engage in prevention and early intervention.