Chronic absenteeism – when a student misses at least 10 percent of school days, on average about 18 days per school year – is a problem in many schools across the country, especially those that serve low-income students. But because schools often track only classroom attendance averages, not individual students’ attendance, it is not always clear which students are missing how many days. Unsurprisingly, this makes it difficult to identify specific students and families who need support.
Chicago is one school district working to solve its chronic absenteeism problem. According to a Catalyst Chicago article by Rebecca Harris, Chicago’s chronic absenteeism rate is 62 percent for preschoolers and 14 percent for kindergarteners. Fifteen percent of Chicago public school children pre-k through third grade miss at least 18 days of school per year. Nationwide, about 10 percent of children in kindergarten and first grade are chronically absent, according to Hedy Chang of Attendance Works who was interviewed for the Catalyst article.
Some schools in Chicago are already getting creative to reduce absenteeism. Some are asking parents to sign attendance contracts, while others are embarking on door-to-door campaigns to talk about the importance of attendance with families. The district’s Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) group is piloting a “walking school bus” project, in which adults are paid to walk children to and from preschool.
There has been plenty of research done on the effects of chronic absenteeism on students’ performance in the early grades of elementary school. We’ve written on it before.
One recent study reported that “students who arrived at school academically ready to learn – but then missed 10 percent of their kindergarten and first grade years – scored, on average, 60 points below similar students with good attendance on third-grade reading tests. In math, the gap was nearly 100 points.”
There has been less research done, though, on how pre-k absences affect later school performance. According to the Catalyst article, few cities actually track pre-k chronic absences. Chicago is one exception.
The Consortium on Chicago Schools Research launched a study earlier this month that will look at how children’s preschool attendance records influence their achievement in second and third grade. Researchers will also see if patterns matter. Does it make a difference if children miss pre-k every day for a month, as opposed to 18 days spread across several weeks throughout the year? Finally, the study will explore why children miss school by surveying parents and teachers, which could go a long way toward assisting Chicago, as well as other school districts, in developing strategies to reduce absenteeism in preschool and promote good attendance habits throughout children’s schooling.
Here at Early Ed Watch, we think it’s critical to help families understand the importance of attendance as early as possible. Kindergarten is already too late to begin conversations, and we expect that’s something the Consortium’s study will confirm.