Count Us In! Toolkit 2018

Count Us In! Working Together To Show That Every School Day Matters

Chronic absence has historically been an alarming, largely overlooked problem that is preventing too many children from having an opportunity to learn and succeed. New national data collected for the 2015-16 school year finds that 8 million students are chronically absent. National data collected for the 2013-14 school year found one out of seven students were chronically absent. This is not just a problem in middle and high school: It starts in kindergarten and preschool. It is a problem in districts of every size, urban, suburban and rural.

While chronic absence is widespread, it is also highly concentrated. Our report, Preventing Missed Opportunity, found that nine out of 10 U.S. school districts experience some level of chronic absenteeism, but half of the nation’s chronically absent students are concentrated in just 4 percent of its districts. Our subsequent report, Portraits of Change discovered that in almost 20,000 public schools – or 22 percent of the total – chronic absence affects 20 percent or more of their students.

Stemming this crisis is essential to our country’s economic and educational future. Growing recognition of its importance led to its inclusion in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA requires all states to report on chronic absence and allowed its adoption as a school accountability metric. The vast majority (36 states plus the District of Columbia) adopted a chronic absence metric in their state plans.

The good news is chronic absence is a problem we can fix when schools and communities work with students and families, starting in the early grades, to identify barriers to getting to school, help students overcome these barriers, and cultivate a culture of attendance that encourages showing up every day even when it isn’t easy. This starts by helping everyone in the community recognize they have a stake and a role. It requires careful attention to data and strategic, locally tailored interventions to address attendance challenges as soon as chronic absence emerges a problem.

This PBS NewsHour video segment, “Empty Chairs” illustrates what is possible. It showcases how the Cleveland Metropolitan School District is making a difference through its positive, problem-solving approach that engages families and students and leverages the power of engaging the entire community. 

We’re using this sixth annual Attendance Awareness Month to encourage everyone to remember that community-wide engagement matters for attendance. Under this year’s theme, Team Up for Attendance! we are emphasizing the role everyone, from educators to health professionals, to local agency and business partners can play in creating a welcoming and engaging school environment that motivates students and families to come to school every day. It’s essential to use data to determine who, when and where students are most likely to miss too much school. Why students are absent is also important: What challenges or misconceptions are keeping students from getting to class?

While local action is always essential, this year we are also highlighting how states can play a leadership role in encouraging districts, schools and community partners to work together to improve student attendance. State leaders can leverage implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act to make available timely data, support professional development, and allocate public and community resources to address chronic absence.

Since 2013, Attendance Awareness Month has engaged hundreds of schools and communities. Over 70 national organizations are now working together to ensure everyone can participate: from a single school to a citywide coalition to a national organization. Sign up here to receive regular updates and tips for improving attendance. Browse the links below and click on what interests you:

A special thank you to our Attendance Awareness Month Campaign corporate sponsors for their commitment to help ensure that every child is in school every day. Their generous investment makes it possible for us to provide you with free strategies and materials. Thank you Scholastic French Toast and Safe and Civil Schools!

Attendance: A Community Imperative