Obama Administration Wages War Against Chronic Absenteeism

Chronic Absenteeism

US President Barack Obama, in the eve of his ending career met key cabinet officials from several Departments – Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, to discuss the issue of chronic absenteeism in schools which affects nearly one in every five of the US high schoolers.

Despite the nation’s highest graduation rate, it is appalling that chronic absenteeism in high schools surged to a figure of 18 percent, noted Secretary of Education John King, who spoke at the Every Student, Every Day National Conference. He further added that the correlation is likewise “very worrisome.”

Chronic absenteeism has indeed been largely overlooked until the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights released a data set which included first time figures that shows the whole scope of the issue. In more than 6.5 million students in the U.S. are considered chronically absent, 18 percent are high school students.

The dataset also found out that chronic absenteeism, which is defined by accumulating 15 or more excused or unexcused absences in a typical 180-day school year begins as early as kindergarten.

Research shows that missing the same amount of school days is an indicator for future problems. In sixth graders, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator whether a student will drop out of high school and ultimately, dropping out of high school, will diminish revenue from income tax and at the same time increase costs due to spending for social services such as healthcare, poverty alleviation and criminal justice system.

Even in the District of Columbia, which has been regarded by the administration as the fastest improving school system in the nation, figures still show a staggering rate of chronic absenteeism 32 percent of students, which is the highest in the country.

Included in the list of states with the largest proportion of students chronically absent are the following; Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Hawaii. On the other hand, only 4.5 percent of students are chronically absent in Florida, which is the lowest rate in the country. Other states with low rates of chronic absenteeism include the following; South Carolina, Indiana, North Dakota and Idaho.

It is disappointing that State figures do not reflect the high rates of chronic absenteeism per school districts, color and economic status.

For example, in Milwaukee, 38 percent of students were chronically absent, followed by Philadelphia and Baltimore, where 37 and 35 percent of students, were chronically absent.

 With the sorted data by race, it was observed that during school year 2013-2014, more than 22 percent of American Indian students were chronically absent, which was followed closely by 21 percent of students from the Pacific, whereas Black students, students of two or more races and Hispanic students also experienced large proportions of chronic absenteeism.

The data set lacks values for low-income students, but research suggests that poor students are four times more likely to be chronically absent than others, for reasons beyond their control which includes unstable housing, unreliable transportation and a lack of access to health care.

Researchers who study chronic absenteeism claim that high rates of chronic absenteeism is reflect amongst students of kindergarten, a year which begins the roots for future absences.

As Michael Gottfried, associate professor at the University of California – Santa Barbara explains, kindergarten is considered the gateway to a student’s entire learning experience – an important transition year when students should be getting excited about learning.

Gottfried is now working hand in hand with California Attorney General Kamala Harris to identify solutions this problem. One effort, which he revealed, that districts with high absenteeism rates among kindergartens is to recommend more parents to enrol students in preschool, a strategy which will lead better attendance in kindergarten.

One of the biggest hurdles to tackling chronic absenteeism is that, many schools and districts don’t collect the right data to illuminate whether such a problem even exists.

For example, they might track how many students show up every day and how many are skipping school without an excuse, but not how many are missing so many days in excused and unexcused absences that they are headed off track academically.

Another leading explanation for these absences is the rise of students with chronic health issues. The top health issues among school children include asthma, diabetes and dental pain. In some schools, especially those with tight budgets don’t usually employ enough school nurses.

For the administration’s part, it stressed on a two-pronged effort to reduce absenteeism rates with its project “My Brother’s Keeper program”, aimed at supporting young men of color, by means of mentoring.

The campaign is said to be backed up with multi million-dollar investment on advertisements.

The mentoring program will be run by Johns Hopkins University, aims to connect 1 million students over the next three to five years with role models from than 30 cities who have expressed their support for the said program.

Rob Clark

SchoolCampus.org admin staff managing editor

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