All families want what is best for their children, but they don’t always realize how absences can add up to academic problems. Sometimes they allow children to miss school when it’s not absolutely necessary. This often happens before and after the winter holidays, as families try to squeeze a few more days out of the vacation season. In bitter cold weather, some parents also walk the thin line of deciding if they should send their children to school.
Attending school regularly is essential to students gaining the academic and social skills they need to succeed. Reducing absenteeism is a simple and cost-effective but often overlooked strategy for improving academic performance. Starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, chronic absence—missing 10 percent of the academic year—can leave third graders unable to read proficiently, sixth graders struggling with coursework and high school students off track for graduation. Chronic absence is especially problematic among students living in poverty, who are most likely to have poor attendance over multiple years and least likely to have the resources to make up for the lost time in the classroom. In some communities, chronic absence affects more than one out of four children.
Unfortunately, many families and communities don’t realize the extent of the problem because they don’t look at all the right data. They’re paying attention to how many students show up every day and how many skip school. But this isn’t the whole picture. They should be monitoring the number of hours spent out of a classroom, whether it is for a doctor appointment or a delay due to weather or illness. All of these types of absences can add up and put a student at risk academically.
The good news is that chronic absence can be significantly reduced when schools, families and community partners work together to monitor data, nurture regular attendance and address hurdles that keep children from getting to school every day, such as lack of access to health care, unhealthy environmental conditions, unreliable transportation or housing instability.
Results of a nationwide parent survey suggest that families would be willing to shorten vacations if they believe the absences are affecting academic success. Parents of course want what’s best for their children, but it takes an entire community to support this. We need support from the business sector, local city leaders and philanthropists to make sure we are getting the right messages out to families and also overcoming barriers faced by parents. We are blessed with incredible schools in our community, public and parochial, which care about our students and only want to see them succeed.
So together, let’s bundle up our kiddos and give them the best education we can.