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'This grotesque fact' about chronic absenteeism in Florida's schools



Daniel J. Cardinali, the president of Communities in Schools, in this morning's New York Times:

For the 16 million American children living below the federal poverty line, the start of a new school year should be reason to celebrate. Summer is no vacation when your parents are working multiple jobs or looking for one. Many kids are left to fend for themselves in neighborhoods full of gangs, drugs and despair. Given the hardships at home, poor kids might be expected to have the best attendance records, if only for the promise of a hot meal and an orderly classroom.

But it doesn't usually work out that way. According to the education researchers Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes at Johns Hopkins, children living in poverty are by far the most likely to be chronically absent from school ...

... we have ample proof that everything else being equal, chronically absent students have lower G.P.A.s, lower test scores and lower graduation rates than their peers who attend class regularly. ...

It's relatively easy to find these at-risk students. That's because poverty is not evenly distributed; it is increasingly concentrated in specific neighborhoods. According to 2012 census estimates, 7.9 million children live in neighborhoods where at least 30 percent of residents are poor.

Chronic absenteeism tends to follow the same pattern. In Florida, for instance, 15 percent of public schools are home (or not home) to 52 percent of chronically absent students.

Some other Florida-specific items I noted in the report from Balfanz and Byrnes:

1. Florida's reported rate of 10 percent translates into more than 300,000 students a year missing more than a month.

2. In Taylor County, more than a quarter of the students are missing more than a month of school and it is a rural district, demonstrating that chronic absentee ism is not just an urban issue.

3. In Taylor County, more than 1,000 students miss more than a month of school. This is a considerable challenge when you consider the size and infrastructure typically available to rural counties with lower wealth.

4. ... we use longitudinal data from Florida to follow a cohort of all first-time sixth-graders in the state (178,188 in total in 1997-98) over seven years. If the students in this cohort stayed on track and were promoted annually, they should have graduated at the end of the last year we tracked, 2003-04. ... across their middle and high school years almost half the students in the Florida sixth-grade cohort had been chronically absent in at least one year (missing a month or more of school). But what is perhaps even more revealing is that one in five students had been severely chronically absent in at least one year (missing two or more months of school). In other words, during the critical middle and high school years when students need to be prepared for adult success, 46 percent of students in at least one of those years missed a month or more of school and 18 percent missed two or more months of school. Some of this occurs in the run-up to dropping out, but not all of it.

5. ... the Florida cohort data suggests that in most cases chronic absenteeism is not an isolated occurrence but a frequent and recurring one with cumulative effects for such students.

6. ... between one-quarter and one-third of all chronically absent students (29 percent) were concentrated in only 5 percent of schools.

7. ... the detailed data from Florida suggest that chronic absenteeism is concentrated in a sub-set of schools -- just 15% of schools account for more than half of the chronically absent students.

8. The Florida data are supported by data from several other states that we analyzed but do not highlight for brevity's sake. They, too, show an essentially linear relationship between each missed day and lower test performance. They also show impacts for science and English achievement, as well as math and reading. Additional Florida analyses show that there is a strong relationship between eighth-grade attendance and ninth-grade achievement, in part because students with poor attendance in eighth grade tend not to attend school regularly in the ninth grade.

[Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2014 8:57am]


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