- With nearly a quarter of students in the district already chronically absent this school year, Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León has just hired back or replaced more than 40 school attendance counselors and truancy officers to work with families and police to create daily attendance reports, visit families and enforce truancy laws, Chalkbeat reports.
- The school district has also taken other measures to deal with chronic absenteeism, including launching a back-to-school campaign, eliminating some early dismissal days when students tend to miss class altogether and establishing a “truancy task force” to track down missing students. It appears some of these efforts are already working, as the chronic absenteeism rate has dropped from 30.5% of students last year to 23%.
- León said he also expects all employees to work toward improving school attendance. Experts recommend that schools don't rely solely on designated employees to do the job because discipline polices, emotional support of students, the quality of instruction and building relationships are all part of addressing absenteeism.
A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education labeled chronic absenteeism a “hidden educational crisis.” The problem is widespread and has long-term consequences for students. Not only does chronic absenteeism affect learning, according to the Brookings Institution, but several studies also show that absenteeism rates are closely linked with graduation rates. School districts also face consequences in terms of lower test scores and state funding when students are absent.
Other societal effects from chronic absenteeism include an increase in delinquency and gang involvement, physical and mental health issues, problems holding a job, poverty and a higher risk of incarceration and addiction. While schools have traditionally used truancy officers to seek out absent students, budget cuts often mean this position was one of the first to be phased out, as it was in Chicago. But now, because of skyrocketing chronic absenteeism rates, some districts are rethinking that move, working closely with law enforcement officers to track absentee students, and creating “task forces” to fill the void.
As states recover from the recession and more money is available for potential use in classrooms, districts may have more money to address the issue, especially in the majority of states that have chosen chronic absenteeism as a fifth indicator in their Every Student Suceeds Act plans. Though some school districts shy away from the term “truancy officer” because of its legal implications, many are investing in additional school counselors, attendance counselors, coaches, and mentors who fill that role to some extent. School districts are also using a wide variety of strategies to improve attendance including offering incentives and creating community-based partnerships to address needs such as health care.
Partnering with outside organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, My Brother’s Keeper, Communities in Schools and similar groups is another approach. While addressing the need through local school control has its advantages, a 2012 study by the Campbell Corporation found that truancy intervention efforts are generally equally successful if they school-, court- or community-based. For school districts without the budget for their own attendance counselors, these options may be a solution.