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Federal Effort Aims to Tackle Chronic Absenteeism; Promote Cooperative Work

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The Obama administration will launch an iniative aimed at reducing chronic absenteeism in public schools Wednesday.

The effort, called "Every Student, Every Day," will bring together officials from the White House, and from the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice.

Officials—including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, incoming acting Secretary of Education John King, Chair of the My Brother's Keeper Initiative Broderick Johnson; and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro—will visit Patterson Elementary School in Washington to announce the new federal efforts aimed at the problem.

They will also challenge states and communities across the country to "join in taking immediate action to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism by at least 10 percent each year, beginning in the current school year," according to the White House. From a White House fact sheet:

"Every Student, Every Day is focused on the estimated 5 to 7.5 million students who are chronically absent each year. Defined as missing at least 10 percent (approximately 18 days) of school days in a school year, chronic absenteeism puts students at heightened risk of falling behind and dropping out of school. Together, communities can address and eliminate chronic absenteeism, and ultimately boost student success and strengthen our nation's workforce and our future prosperity. As part of this initiative, the Administration is partnering with states, local communities, and nonprofit, faith, and philanthropic organizations to support local, cross-sector efforts."

New Federal Efforts Aimed at Absenteeism

So what's new here? The administration doesn't seem to be announcing substantial new resources, at least not in the financial sense. Here's a rundown of what's to come:

  • "Every Student, Every Day: A Community Toolkit to Address and Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism" includes guidance from all of the involved federal agencies. The document "is designed to support coordinated community action," the White House said.
  •  The latest Civil Rights Data Collection, set to be released in spring 2016, will include the first-ever school-level data on all students who missed at least 15 days of school for any reason during the 2013-14 school year. Federal officials hope the data "will shed new light on the scope of the chronic absenteeism problem including where it is most prevalent and whom it most affects, and further catalyze efforts to engage students who are chronically absent."
  • A national summit following the release of that data will provide information "for states, school districts, and communities that are committed to implementing proven strategies including implementing early warning prevention and identification systems and cross-sector interventions and supports that connect students to meaningful education, health, housing, juvenile justice, and other critical services."
  • New technical assistance, which the Education Department plans to launch in January, will help states and districts implement or enhance early warning systems that "use student-level data—including absenteeism data—to identify and match appropriate interventions and supports for at-risk students, particularly those who are, or are at-risk of becoming, chronically absent from school. "
  • A public awareness campaign created as a partnership between the Ad Council and the Education Department will target both parents and communities.
  • The Education Department, the United Way, Johns Hopkins University, and MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, will launch "the nation's first-ever effort to bring a data-driven, evidence-based mentoring model to scale targeting chronically absent students in high-need communities." MENTOR plans to send out a message from Duncan this week to mentoring programs around the country related to absenteeism and provide guidance to mentors about school attendance issues.
  • The Education Department will partner with Attendance Works, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and United Way to host a "virtual summit" on addressing chronic absences Nov. 12. Registration opens today for states, communities, and schools.

"It's common-sense—students have to be in their classrooms to learn, yet too many of our children, and most often our most vulnerable children, are missing almost a month or more of school every year," Duncan said in a statement. "Through this national initiative we are partnering with communities and providing tools to help our all of our young people attend school every day, so that they are learning the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in school, careers and life." 


Further reading on absenteeism and school attendance:

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