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In Chicago, 32,000 Students Truant

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Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki. Cross-posted from District Dossier.

More than 12 percent of Chicago K-8th graders missed more than four weeks of school in the 2010-11 school year, the Chicago Tribune revealed in a special report on absenteeism in the district.

Any way you cut them, the numbers are dismal: That's 32,000 children out of school for more than a month. More than 20 percent of the district's black students missed more than four weeks of school. Nineteen percent of the district's kindergartners were listed as chronic truants.

Chicago's murder rate is the highest it has ever been—up 25 percent from last year, according to Chicago's WGNtv.com website—and at least one principal the Tribune worked with said that neighborhood violence affected attendance at his school. He also said that many of his middle schoolers and older elementary school students were responsible for tending to younger siblings as well as to themselves. Research shows that this kind of adversity can have a lifelong impact, as my colleague Sarah Sparks reported this week.

The Tribune provided one brighter note in a compelling profile of a district in Galesburg, Ill., 150 miles outside of Chicago, that has an effective anti-truancy program.

Chicago schools spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler told the Tribune that budget shortfalls have limited the district's response, but that it hopes to find ways to keep students in class. This piece explains how the Tribune got access to and analyzed the data while avoiding compromising students' privacy.

Chicago is, of course, not the only district struggling with absenteeism. In Washington, schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is attempting to crack down on truancy: She recently referred nearly 100 students younger than 13 to the city's Child and Family Services agency for having missed ten school days already this school year, according to the Washington Examiner. In Kansas City, a new city ordinance that institutes a fine for persistent truancy went into effect this school year, as the Kansas City Star reports. And in Baltimore, a report showing high rates of absenteeism and truancy prompted a slew of new programs and tactics a few years back—including potential jail time for parents of chronically truant students. Meanwhile, Los Angeles is attempting a shift to gentler approach.

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