Education & Family

Early warning systems fall short in combating absenteeism at school

A fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research studied what occurred the next 2021-22 school 12 months. 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 at all. Low-income college students with a observe file of lacking school continued to overlook as a lot school the subsequent 12 months, regardless of efforts to assist them return. 

The solely 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 decreased value lunch program. The attendance of extra advantaged college students who had been flagged purple for “off track” (chronically absent) improved by 1 to 2 proportion factors. That’s good, however 4 out of 5 of the purple “off track” college students got here from low-income households. Only 20% of the pool of chronically absent college students had been helped … a bit.

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

Yusuf Canbolat, the Harvard fellow, defined to me that early warning systems solely flag college students. They don’t inform educators how one can assist college students. Every youngster’s motive for not coming to school is exclusive. Some are bullied. Others have bronchial asthma and their dad and mom are nervous about their health. Still others have fallen so behind in their school work that they can not comply with what’s occurring in the classroom. 

Common approaches, similar to calling dad and mom and mailing letters, are typically more practical with higher-income households, Canbolat defined to me. They usually tend to have the sources to comply with by way of with counseling or tutoring, for instance, and assist their youngster return to school. 

Low-income households, against this, usually have bigger issues that require help colleges can’t 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 usually requires partnerships with community organizations and social service agencies

Canbolat mentioned that school employees in this district tried to give you options that have been tailor-made to a baby’s circumstances, however giving a household the title of a counseling heart isn’t the identical as ensuring the household is getting the counseling it wants. And there have been so many youngsters flagged for being at danger that the colleges couldn’t start to handle their wants at all. Instead, they targeted on probably 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 school. Many colleges, she mentioned, may need just one or two social staff specializing in attendance and their caseloads shortly grow to be overloaded. When almost half of the scholars in a school 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 at school in order that they sit up for being there. That can vary from after-school applications and sports activities to advisory durations and paying high schoolers to mentor elementary school college students. 

“The most important thing is kids need to know that when they walk into school, there’s someone who cares about them,” mentioned Chang.

Despite the disappointing outcomes of utilizing an early warning system to fight absenteeism, each researchers and specialists 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 current School Pulse Panel survey carried out by the Department of Education in November 2023 that solely 15% of school leaders mentioned they have been “extremely concerned” about scholar absences. In high-poverty neighborhoods, there was extra concern, however nonetheless solely 26%. Given that the variety of college students who’re chronically absent from colleges has virtually doubled to 28% from around 15% earlier than the pandemic, everybody ought to be very involved. If we don’t discover a answer quickly, hundreds of thousands of youngsters might be unable to get the schooling they should reside a productive life. And we are going to all pay the worth.

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