This week, I have asked the Board of Supervisors to declare September “School Attendance Month.” For many of us, attending school is a no-brainer. But for some children, it can be an ongoing challenge, with devastating results. Low-income children are four times more likely to be chronically absent in kindergarten than their peers from families with higher incomes. And older kids face even more challenges: chronically absent sixth-graders have lower graduation rates. Also, the more you miss school in ninth grade is a pretty reliable predictor that you won’t be graduating from high school.
It goes without saying that the more a student misses school, the more likely they will have significant challenges with literacy, math and all of the other skills that prepare them for college and the workforce. There are numerous reasons why children from low-income households are more likely to miss school – everything from unstable housing, unreliable transportation and probably most heartbreaking to me: a lack of a safe path to school, due to neighborhood violence.
In 2010, the Los Angeles County Education Coordinating Council (ECC) established the School Attendance Task Force to determine exactly why a child misses school, evaluate the current strategies in place to ensure kids don’t miss school, and develop recommendations to improve attendance and reduce tardiness. They released their findings earlier this year, and not surprisingly, they concluded that our current practices are not very effective. There is a lack of coordination between schools, the courts and law enforcement to address truancy, and what strategies we do have in place are outdated and punitive in nature.
I’m very pleased that the ECC has shined a light on this, and the strategies they recommend are sensible and based on best practices and current research. I’m particularly pleased that Long Beach Unified’s approach was highlighted as a model practice! The strategies are not complicated: it basically comes down to schools implementing and using an attendance-data system, early intervention with a student who misses school, actively engaging parents, incentivizing attendance (as opposed to penalizing non-attendance), addressing the needs of homeless students, and using the court system and law enforcement only when absolutely necessary.
At the end of the day, our students have no chance at high achievement in school if they don’t even make it through the door! Let’s work together to do everything possible to give them a chance at success.