Chronic absenteeism: Why do so many kids miss so much school and what can be done?

JoBeth Allen is a professor emeritus in the University of Georgia department of language and literacy education. Her  area of research for the past 10 years has been family-school partnerships that support student learning. Most recently, she and seven teachers  wrote a book on one highly effective kind of partnership: “Family Dialogue Journals,” published by Teachers College Press this spring.

By JoBeth Allen

The kids are in school. That means it’s time for educators to worry about kids who are not in school.

Soon we’ll see horrific headlines like “Georgia woman shackled over son’s school absences” (AJC 5/26/15) and “Student truancy can spell $1,000 fine, jail for parents” (AJC 12/18/11). Or perhaps policy makers will take a different approach: “State education board allows more excuses for student absence” (AJC 5/8/15).

According to a 2013 study by the National Assessment for Educational Progress, poor attendance is detrimental to almost all students; it disproportionately damages students affected by poverty and those from communities of color. The deleterious effects begin early. Students who are chronically absent in kindergarten are more likely to be retained in third grade; students who are retained are 50 percent less likely to graduate from high school.

According to the NAEP report, a primary strategy for addressing excessive absenteeism is to “help schools and community partners to intervene with chronically absent students through community-wide approaches to health and transportation challenges, as well as personalized outreach.”

Let’s look more closely at one of those challenges: illness.

Asthma is the single largest cause of student absenteeism, and children in low-income homes not only get asthma more frequently and more severely than children in middle and high income home, and they are less able to afford treatment. (AJC File.)

Asthma is the single largest cause of student absenteeism. (AJC File.)

According to Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute, asthma is the single largest cause of student absenteeism, and children in low-income homes not only get asthma more frequently and more severely than children in middle and high income home, and they are less able to afford treatment. Further, children affected by poverty are five times more likely than more affluent children to have high lead levels in their blood, have twice as many severe and uncorrected vision problems, and have three times as many untreated cavities. How does a kid with a toothache learn? How often are children in local schools absent because of asthma?

What if parents, educators, and students investigated the effects of such health issues in our schools, and came up with a way to decrease health-related issues and thus increase school attendance and learning?

One community – one of the poorest in California – did just that. In Contra Costa County, the average Verde Elementary School student missed one out of every nine school days. Not surprisingly given high poverty and absenteeism, VES ranked the lowest of 6,209 schools on the statewide Academic Performance Index in 2000.

The principal pulled together school staff, county agencies (Departments of Employment and Human Services, Health Services, Probation), community organizations, and VES students and their families to establish the VIP (Verde Involving Parents) program. They assessed the complex problems affecting the children and developed several inter-agency strategies including Parent-to-Parent Outreach and Assistance.

Parent-to-Parent was staffed by Family Partners. These were parents of VES children with strong school attendance records, parents living in the same neighborhoods as children with poor attendance records who the school paid to work several hours a week. Family Partners helped their friends and neighbors – grandparents, parents, and other caregivers – who needed assistance in getting their children to school. They picked up students in their cars or on foot and brought them to school when necessary.

Once the children were at school, Family Partners called or made home visits to all families of absent or tardy students. The purpose of the calls and visits wasn’t to browbeat or threaten parents with jail, as some districts do. Rather, they talked parent to parent (or grandparent, or caregiver) to find out what was keeping the child from attending school regularly. They offered their help in contacting the health and other resources needed to address the underlying problems.

For example, one student was chronically absent because she had headaches and toothaches. Her mother explained this to the Family Partner who contacted the Family Service Center’s Public Health nurse who arranged a dentist’s appointment that very day. Once her badly infected teeth were treated, the child was able to return to school. Other children received glasses, inhalers, and other health support through agencies that already existed for those very purposes.

So did it make a difference? You bet it did. The VIP Program reduced unexcused absences by a monthly average of 72 percent during its first year, and Verde students made major gains on the state Academic Performance Index.

The relevant lesson is that people came together from multiple agencies to address a complex problem, and the primary stakeholders – families – were integrally involved in finding and staffing solutions. The caring and competent teachers, administrators, and parents in APS and throughout Georgia can undoubtedly find wise, just, and effective ways of reducing the root causes of absenteeism and supporting families as partners in their children’s education.

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

145 comments
Raquel Piraquive
Raquel Piraquive

I live in the state of Georgia.  I believe there can be an incentive for parent volunteers who can benefit from the school department to find ways economically to compensate for some of the time these parents put in. I believe it is not so much a matter of poverty zones I believe it has much to do with cultural diversity.  For example I am from Colombia an average teacher in Colombia frowns on parents help.  It is just in the last years in which from my experience parents are made to feel welcomed in the school setting. Parents of this culture learn or have trusted the teachers to teach their children and often are unaware of any issues until reports come in. Now we can choose to involve these parents by letting them know they are welcomed in the Georgia school setting in this way a gap of communication will be closed and parents will be more open minded about the importance of attendance. As a parent I do not believe that a school should decide if my child is sick enough to stay out of school or not.  I feel that is the parents responsibility. educate don't intrude.

class80olddog
class80olddog

From this great article link posted by Moderate_line:

Read more: http://www.healthofchildren.com/T/Truancy.html#ixzz3jxg9DgaS

Parents may also fail to understand the attendance laws or have cultural biases against the education system.

Do some parents (and their kids) actually have a "cultural bias against the education system"?  Where have I heard that before?

class80olddog
class80olddog

and - Alternately, some states are investigating ways to use incentives such as linking eligibility for public assistance to truancy as an effective way to capture parents' interest in keeping their children in school.

southerntchr
southerntchr

Why can we not hold the parents accountable?  If a household is receiving any form of aid, there should be a checks and balances - getting children medical attention (which is free for most of the recipients in my area), dental visits (again, free), vision checkups and glasses (again, agencies dole these vouchers out), etc.  The problem I encounter is that the parents of my students who are absent just really don't want to be bothered.  You would not believe some of the responses I get after reaching out to parents.  

Schools and teachers can only do so much.  I would have students whose parents would tell them to go to the nurse at school because of some illness over the weekend or injury.  No!  The nurse can't diagnose, test, or treat!  Take them to the doctor yourselves!  This caused more issues with students missing class because it was one more place for them to try to go rather than sit in class.  

If we could actually implement consequences to actions, then we could stop the bullying and disruptive behavior, but what can be done in school to a student?  

Demand that the laws be enforced (mandatory attendance) or do away with them.  I hear all the time the system just doesn't want to deal with it the backlash.  

Parents, when you send your children to school, you have to accept that you need to follow the rules just like everyone else, or you and your children will suffer consequences.  After all, isn't that what we are trying to teach the children?  How to be productive citizens and accept responsibility by being accountable for our actions?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@southerntchr "After all, isn't that what we are trying to teach the children?  How to be productive citizens and accept responsibility by being accountable for our actions?"

You get a gold star for your post - the best I have seen in a while. 

As to your sentence above - yes, that is what schools SHOULD teach - but they are failing miserably in that department.

Starik
Starik

Check the AJC (A2): A New Jersey elementary school teacher was late to work 111 times in 2 years, and an arbitrator ruled it would be unfair to fire him.  His salary? $90,000.00.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

How about holding our state leaders accountable? No jobs, too many taxes, crappy healthcare. terrible roads,and the list goes on! So these guys are going to do better with schools? What say you Pig? When are our leaders going to lead? When are we going to get real reform?


Come On Pig, this is where the breakdown is! What is the solution? YOU BEING THE LOAD MOUTH WITH ALL THE ANSWERS!

More private schools where there is no violence or abuse ....teachers are genius, and all students are successful!  


How about Hangman.........D _ M _ A _ S_!

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Astropig @JBBrown1968


Not A Demo or a Repub. Pop Quiz? What current demo/gov, that you love so well, started as a  D _ M _ Nut? You think the guy is politically asexual? DEMO/REPUB......FAILED PREACHER......FAILED BUSINESMAN.  So, still no real discussion about real problems......Whiner! Gotti had nothing on this governor! Stealing from the public is easy. Solving real problems..... not so much!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

The following needs to be a point of emphasis from the article:

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Once the children were at school, Family Partners called or made home visits to all families of absent or tardy students. The purpose of the calls and visits wasn’t to browbeat or threaten parents with jail, as some districts do. Rather, they talked parent to parent (or grandparent, or caregiver) to find out what was keeping the child from attending school regularly. They offered their help in contacting the health and other resources needed to address the underlying problems.

So did it make a difference? You bet it did. The VIP Program reduced unexcused absences by a monthly average of 72 percent during its first year, and Verde students made major gains on the state Academic Performance Index."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


When will we learn that "punitive" rarely helps in schools or in society-at-large?


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@sneakpeakintoeducation 

Correct.  However, truly caring and showing that personal care will always be helpful.  People, deep down, know the difference in how others treat them and how others see them, whatever their class or economic status happens to be. And, people respond to love more than to judgement.

We are all one, under God.  Or, ". . .all men are created equal.  . ."

big_lott
big_lott

what about the teachers who miss so many days of school?


if we have subs every friday and monday, because ms smith calls off regularly, why would a kid be pressed about coming to school.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@big_lott


Are you talking about a teacher that really does that or are you just trying to create more ill feelings towards teachers? We had so many rules about taking a school day off and the planning and prep work for the sub made it doubly difficult and was hardly worth the effort, unless absolutely necessary. I don't think I every encountered a teacher who took a day off just for the heck of it.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@big_lott


Districts vary, some get limited  personal days a year - and  the additional sick days are doled out and you have to "earn" them.  Plus, if you get caught using a "sick" day without actual reason you can be fired (and yes, it has happened).   The personal days do not  carry over, and most teachers save them for things like repair work on houses or cars, or long weekend trips.  We also cannot take a personal day on days before or after a holiday break.  Writing up lessons plans for a sub (which have to be turned in and can be graded by the sub) is time intensive and I cannot imagine someone doing it for kicks.  There are a lot of rules and regs involved. The only times I know of that teachers have taken several days off was for mandatory training and workshops, or  in situations where the rules were changed and it was decided that there would be no pay tacked onto retirement for saved sick leave.  Then some teachers will use up those days.

Starik
Starik

Possibly part of the problem is that nobody really wants the kids in school who are problems - I've seen kids sleeping through high school classes.  The teachers don't wake them up because they disrupt the class. I suspect the same teachers are delighted when the kids don't show up either.

BCW1
BCW1

Like all the other social problems we have...schools are looked upon to solve the issues. I am sick and tired of hearing what the public schools can do to solve parental sorriness!!!

Starik
Starik

@BCW1 The schools are the only mainstream institution that sees children regularly and is in a position to identify abuse, neglect, and general parental sorriness - maybe we need to expand that responsibility by adding a social work staff...


Won't help the "home schooled" victims, though.

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

If you're a single mother without a man in the house, I'll send you a check each and every month - LBJ.......Two parent households for blacks went from 77% then to what it is today, around 25%.....Direct correlation?  Yeah, I think so.  The Democrats/Liberals motto - "Keep 'em ignorant, that way we'll always have their vote".  Folks, I hate being pessimistic; however, until we change the entitlement culture in our country, this problem will never get any better.

redweather
redweather

@An American Patriot  Yeah, and while we're at it let's get the police to stop shooting and arresting and incarcerating innocent black people. That way they might begin to feel like their an integral part of the community.  Positive reinforcement and all that.

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

@redweather @An American Patriot So, whatta want?  the police to just stand there and watch while someone is committing a crime?  According to you, these people who are charged with protecting us from the criminal element are expected to have perfect judgment 100% of the time.  Only one person in the entire history of the world was perfect.  You know, I hope you'll never need help from one of those brave policemen/policewomen who just stand there because political correctness forces them to.

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

@Wascatlady @An American Patriot "Most"??  Ms. Wascatlady, I think that, at the very best, is a false and misleading statement.  I'm sure there are places, like Rabun County, Ga. where "Most" or the Majority of the population is White, where that statement may have some validity; however, your statement does not reflect the entitlement culture of the entire of America when you consider the percentages, not the numbers.

class80olddog
class80olddog

What I see is more of the same excuses that have made failing schools what they are today. We dealt with the problem in the sixties but we don't want to deal with it today

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog


Sharp readers will see that this whole "fix poverty before fixing the schools" shuck and jive is just a delaying tactic that ensures that the schools never see any meaningful reform.The status quo gets to keep grinding on toward retirement, battalions of vice principals and area superintendents are created and improvement is never seriously attempted.Meanwhile poverty keeps on keepin' on like it has since the dawn of man.


Up until recently (the last 10-15 years), the public bought this BS and everybody in the ed cartel was okay with it. It was only when people in Georgia and elsewhere started demanding no more excuses did you see the bitter acrimony emerge from the eduacracy.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Astropig @class80olddog


And yet the countries that do help those living in poverty are doing better than our beloved country. Hardly BS when it has been shown to work and, compared to the privatize plan which has been shown to not produce the desired results, would be a much better long-term investment.

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

Where a child is sick, the school systems generally provide "visiting teachers" to monitor progress. Where the absences are unexcused, I say turn the parents over to the local authorities. We do have laws in Georgia to cover this behavior. Enforce them! (Mandatory attendance laws.)

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@TaxiSmith And MAKE the judges enforce the laws!  Publish the names of those who don't!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@TaxiSmith Sort  of like TKES for Judges!  and they should be paid on whether "observers"think they have followed the law!

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

In her article, JoBeth Allen refers to the extraordinary measure Contra Costa County is taking to curb absenteeism.  Measures that ignore the root cause of the problem - welfare recipients having kids.  Mandatory birth control for both men and women on welfare would go a long ways in solving many of today's societal "problems".

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Lee_CPA2


I am astounded that you are for big government. From many of your prior posts I thought government was the problem.

class80olddog
class80olddog

The alternative to birth control is to do away with welfare completely. If the parents don't feed their children, the children just die and the parent goes to jail

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@sneakpeakintoeducation

I am a strong believer in a "less government is better government" philosophy.    I am also a realist and support a societal safety net.  That safety net should be temporary and not intended as a lifestyle choice with generation after generation on the welfare dole.  I also do not think that the welfare rate for certain immigrants should be 70% plus.  It should be 0%.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Student learning is a function of teaching activities and the conditions under which these activities occur. Teaching activities and conditions are functions of classroom and schoolhouse climates.


Inasmuch as classroom and school climates influence student learning, is it a stretch to infer that when such climates are characterized by disrespect and disruption, student learning suffers?


If such were true, might we correctly attribute much of the academic under-performance of many of our kids and our schools to the unsuitable learning climates which characterize too many of our classrooms and schoolhouses?

anothercomment
anothercomment

Bullying, lack of discipline and reverse racism caused my child to become physically ill and miss a lot of school. I had insurance. So, I took her to the doctors, specialists, hospitals, and had doctors notes, that stated this child is physically sick with headaches and stomaches because of bullying. The school district refused to do anything! they implied I was a raciest.

You know what I withdrew my child who never scored below a 90% on the IOWA's even missing lots of school. If enough people like me which is now my whole neighborhood of owned homes ( no one sends their child to middle school or high school) the sacred test scores fall without us!

popcornular
popcornular

@anothercomment

And we wonder why absences are so high. Who would want to crawl out from under Blanky in a comfy bed only to be dropped off in a jungle.