Early warning systems fall short in combating absenteeism at school

A fellow at Harvard College’s Heart for Schooling Coverage Analysis studied what occurred the next 2021-22 college yr. The outcomes, published online in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis on Feb. 5, 2024, have been woefully disappointing: the attendance charges of low-income college students didn’t enhance in any respect. Low-income college students with a observe document of lacking college continued to overlook as a lot college the subsequent yr, regardless of efforts to assist them return. 

The one college students to enhance their attendance charges have been larger revenue college students, whose households earned an excessive amount of to qualify for the free or diminished value lunch program. The attendance of extra advantaged college students who had been flagged crimson for “off observe” (chronically absent) improved by 1 to 2 share factors. That’s good, however 4 out of 5 of the crimson “off observe” college students got here from low-income households. Solely 20% of the pool of chronically absent college students had been helped … a bit.

The promoting level for early warning programs is that they may also help establish college students earlier than they’re derailed, when it’s simpler to get again into the routine of going to highschool. However, distressingly, neither wealthy nor poor college students who had been flagged yellow for being “in danger” noticed an enchancment in attendance.

Yusuf Canbolat, the Harvard fellow, defined to me that early warning programs solely flag college students. They don’t inform educators methods to assist college students. Each little one’s motive for not coming to highschool is exclusive. Some are bullied. Others have bronchial asthma and their dad and mom are fearful about their well being. Nonetheless others have fallen so behind of their college work that they can’t comply with what’s occurring within the classroom. 

Frequent approaches, corresponding to calling dad and mom and mailing letters, are usually simpler with higher-income households, Canbolat defined to me. They’re extra more likely to have the sources to comply with by with counseling or tutoring, for instance, and assist their little one return to highschool. 

Low-income households, against this, usually have bigger issues that require help colleges can not present. Many low-income youngsters lost a parent or a guardian to COVID and are still grieving. Many households in poverty need housing, food, employment, healthcare, transportation or even help with laundry. That always requires partnerships with community organizations and social service agencies

Canbolat mentioned that college employees on this district tried to give you options that have been tailor-made to a toddler’s circumstances, however giving a household the identify of a counseling heart isn’t the identical as ensuring the household is getting the counseling it wants. And there have been so many children flagged for being in danger that the colleges couldn’t start to handle their wants in any respect. As a substitute, they centered on essentially the most extreme power absence circumstances, Canbolat mentioned.

Hedy Chang, govt director of Attendance Works, a nonprofit that’s working with colleges to enhance attendance, mentioned {that a} case administration strategy to absenteeism isn’t sensible when so many college students aren’t coming to highschool. Many faculties, she mentioned, might need just one or two social employees specializing in attendance and their caseloads shortly develop into overloaded. When practically half of the scholars in a faculty have an attendance drawback, system-wide approaches are wanted, Chang mentioned.

One systematic strategy, she mentioned, is to cease taking an adversarial tone with households — threatening dad and mom with fines or going to court docket, or college students with suspensions for truancy violations. “That doesn’t work,” Chang mentioned. 

She recommends that colleges create extra methods for college students to construct relationships with adults and classmates in school in order that they look ahead to being there. That may vary from after-school applications and sports activities to advisory intervals and paying excessive schoolers to mentor elementary college college students. 

“A very powerful factor is children must know that once they stroll into college, there’s somebody who cares about them,” mentioned Chang.

Regardless of the disappointing outcomes of utilizing an early warning system to fight absenteeism, each researchers and consultants say the dashboards shouldn’t be jettisoned. Chang defined that they nonetheless assist colleges perceive the dimensions and the scope of their attendance drawback, see patterns and study if their options are working. 

I used to be shocked to learn in a latest Faculty Pulse Panel survey performed by the Division of Schooling in November 2023 that solely 15% of college leaders mentioned they have been “extraordinarily involved” about scholar absences. In high-poverty neighborhoods, there was extra concern, however nonetheless solely 26%. Provided that the variety of college students who’re chronically absent from colleges has nearly doubled to 28% from around 15% earlier than the pandemic, everybody ought to be very involved. If we don’t discover a resolution quickly, tens of millions of youngsters can be unable to get the training they should reside a productive life. And we’ll all pay the worth.

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