- Changing the tone and appearance of letters addressed to parents has helped reduce chronic absenteeism by 15% in California’s San Mateo County and 11% in Chicago and Philadelphia, Governing.com reports.
- Rather than emphasizing the legal consequences of truancy, the letters are now friendlier and easier to understand, enlisting parents as partners in the attendance effort while reminding them of the number of days missed so far and the consequences of unexcused absences.
- While text messages and social media are fine for more urgent communications and reminders, sending letters by mail appears to be more effective in addressing chronic absenteeism because they appear more official and important, creating a “social artifact” parents are more likely to use in discussing the issue with their children.
Chronic absenteeism is a growing problem impacting many school districts across the nation, though some are impacted more than others. While truancy used to be viewed more as a legal issue, it is now being viewed more as a social issue that involves the cooperation of parents, school staff, the state and community partnerships.
A number of issues may contribute to the situation: family crisis, transportation issues, housing issues and addiction are among the most common. For some families, lack of access to medical or mental health care, or even laundry facilities, can impact their decision to send their child to school. As schools and community organizations work to help families address these barriers, attendance rates tend to improve.
Clear communication with parents is key to this effort, some parents are also not aware that their child is missing school. While students sometimes skip school on their own, the reason for their absence could also constitute an emergency situation. Some states are now requiring schools to notify parents within hours if a student is missing class so these issues can be addressed in a timely manner.
But chronic absences also require clear communication to parents who may have lost track of exactly how much school their child is missing and need to be reminded of the impact that lack of attendance is likely to have on their academic achievement. It is also helpful (and in some states, mandatory) to remind them of their legal responsibilities in this matter. Offering helpful resources to parents who need help overcoming obstacles is important, as well.
The issue of chronic absenteeism will continue to receive attention as most states are using it as a metric in their ESSA accountability plans. As states gather more data on school attendance through these reports, more research on the long-term impact and economic cost of chronic absenteeism will likely emerge, as will more solutions to the issue.