Submitted by: By Hedy Chang, Director, Attendance Works
The first month of school is so full of possibilities: new teachers, new classmates, new chances to turn around academic performance. But some students are already putting themselves on a path toward academic trouble by missing too much school.
Attendance in Oakland
In our city, one in nine of our public school students miss 10 percent of the school year—or about 18 days. The point where absences—whether excused, unexcused or for disciplinary reasons— begin to affect achievement.
This is as true for kindergartners as it is for high school students. In fact, data from Oakland show that chronic absence in the early grades predicts poor attendance in later grades. And in the later grades, chronic absence predicts dropout rates.
In Oakland, and elsewhere, this problem disproportionately affects students from low-income families and children of color. It leaves third graders unable to read proficiently and ninth graders disconnected from school. So it’s imperative that we address this problem now.
My organization, Attendance Works, is working with school districts and communities across the country to turn around these trends. Based in the Bay Area, we’ve spent the past couple of years working closely with Oakland and are impressed at what we’ve seen. Students, parents, teachers, principals, community nonprofits and political leaders are all pitching in to improve school attendance.
This effort goes far beyond the schools. The Oakland Housing Authority is hosting back-to-school events and giving out backpacks. VISTA volunteers are reaching out to businesses to share posters and flyers about attendance. An NFL football player, Oakland native Marshawn Lynch, filmed an attendance video with local elementary school students.
School district, city leaders and the District Attorney’s office have come together as the Oakland Attendance Collaborative to produce the Every Day Counts toolkit, which provides ready-made materials that school leaders can use for outreach to families and to enlist help from other administrators, staff, teachers and community partners.
These efforts are coming together in September when the community will join a nationwide recognition of Attendance Awareness Month. Attendance Works and other national organizations have created a toolkit for schools and organizations that want to get involved.
Oakland Reads 2020 considers improving attendance a key strategy toward improving early literacy, is putting together a social media guide that will help local organizations send out tweets and post on Facebook. Please check the Oakland Reads 2020 site in September for resources and information.
Throughout the first month of school, Oakland students and parents will be bombarded with messages about the importance of good attendance. We hope that by starting early, students will build the habits that will help them succeed in school.