Education Epidemic – Absenteeism


You all know how this message goes, or would go, if we could flash that red banner across your TV and all of the TV’s across the nation as we attempt to bring to the forefront a MAJOR issue in our schools.  Absenteeism. When you think of problems in our schools, the most heard topics might be bullying, too much standardized testing, or a variety of other concerns that make headlines in our schools.

The truth of the matter is, these are all important but none of these can occur unless students are in school and neither can the learning process!  The issues have been documented for the last several years but it still has not caught on as a major concern.  We have been focused on NCLB and now the ESSA, Digital Classrooms, Flipped Learning, all things that tie to achievement.  These are all important but again, students will not grow academically if they are not in school.

The U.S. Department of Education is now launching this website that can be used to see the data easily and learn about the issue.  Evie Blad published an article, that is the focus of my post that addresses this data. Please read the article as well but here are some of the takeaways:

  • In nearly 500 school districts…at least 30 percent of students missed at least three weeks of school.
  • About 19 percent of high school students missed 15 or more school days
  • About 17 percent of students with disabilities were chronically absent compared to 12 percent of students without disabilities. And the disparity held at every grade level
  • “About one in five students in both 4th and 8th grade reported missing three or more days in the month before the test,” the report says. “If that pattern persisted all year, the students would have missed 27 days or about 15 percent of the school year.”
  • “A new study by the  Baltimore Education Research Consortium found that half the students who missed two to four days in September went on to be chronically absent for the year, missing an average of 25 days. Nine out of 10 students who missed at least 5 days in September were chronically absent, averaging 70 absences.”

chronic absenteeism pic

That first one resonates with me – 30% of students missed at least 3 weeks of school.  That is 15 days!  Mind you that this was 3% of the total districts that were included in the survey but let me ask you this…Do you think all 500 of those districts would show low student achievement? High counts of students labeled as low socio-economic status? Struggle to perform on standardized tests?

If I was a gambler I would easily bet yes.  I would think that the odds have to be in my favor.  Think of your school, your campus, your classroom and the students that struggle academically.  (You all have those beautiful mug shots in your head now – you’re welcome!) Now think of how many of them have attendance concerns.  When I think back I would say it is at least 50/50 from my experience as an educator.

So how do we change this?  Evie offers some great suggestions in her article but for me it comes back to a theme that I talk about often in my presentations to clients/prospects but also on my blog – CARING.  If we CARE that absenteeism is a huge issue then we will work our hardest to make sure that our kids attend school and create as many different motivators to do this as possible.

At my first job as a teacher I worked for a principal that got this.  She was an amazing woman with great ideas, leadership, and charisma.  As a campus we had our ups and downs but one thing was certain and easy for all to see, she cared so much about the kids and their well-being.

Our school was in one of the tougher neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.  We had great students who were looking for their place, students just looking for a change, but also had a nice population of the tougher students from the neighboring districts who were looking for their place OR were forced from their schools.  Now we did not break the records on the PSSA’s (Pennsylvania’s State Assessments) but we made it a goal of ours to get our kids to come to school.  We held massive social events for all kids who missed less than 3 days of school in each nine weeks (Roller skating party, Amusement Park trip, Dance, and Field Day) and we let the students vote at the start of the 9 weeks as to which trip/event they would want to attend.  These kids came to school, even some that you wished might take an extra day off :), and we saw great attendance rates.  This helped us show huge gains in student achievement, even if we were not dominating the PSSA tests, because either way our kids were growing, learning responsibility, and stepping up to the challenge!

Now is it always that simple? No – You can argue that a party is not the reason that they came, that will not work for everybody, and your right.  When you deal with high school students, they consider themselves to be “grown” so sometimes motivating them to come to school is a challenge.  So then give them another reason!  Our students also came because we CARED.  We had kids looking to escape their family, escape the street life, find a consistent meal, a place to feel safe, and this sad list continues.

We really turned the corner with all of this about 2 months into school when there was a shooting in our neighborhood and teenager lost their life.  Almost all of our kids knew him but he did not attend out school.  We gave up a day of learning and made a giant circle, 3-4 kids deep, in our gym so that our kids could share their pain.  (Full disclosure, at first I was frustrated with this decision and then as the day grew on, and more and more students started to share feelings and stories, it was amazing.)  I will tell you that at one time or another there was not a dry eye in that gym because everyone was effected by this loss or had a story of another.  This experience changed the culture of our school.

Absenteeism is something that really needs to be addressed.  How?  Schools need to build data dashboards that show data dynamically so that we can analyze it and find ways to solve it.  Evie shows statistics that attendance affects achievement in another one of her posts and if that is your number one goal, student achievement, then you must tackle this epidemic in your district.  If my examples would not work in your district then strive to come up with your own way to address these concerns.

So…let’s find ways to identify these students, label them “At Risk for Failure” or something that let’s everyone at your district know that this student needs to be watched.  Let’s show/teach/model them the value of education, friendship, hard work, patriotism, fashion, music, whatever gets them to school right!?  Remember that if you experience issues with absenteeism at your district/campus that you can crunch data, throw parties, and offer rewards, but at the heart of all of that, your kids still need to see, know, and feel that you CARE.

Please comment on what your district does to impact/track attendance and share this article so that it can serve as a reference for ideas!

One Reply to “Education Epidemic – Absenteeism”

  1. Pingback: Educational Epidemic Solution: Hold Parents Accountable | Insights in Education and commentary from Industry Insider: Justin McKean

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