Last school year, 14.3 percent of Oakland’s public schoolchildren were chronically absent, meaning they missed at least 18 days of school — excused or unexcused. As you can see from this map, created by (and posted with the permission of) the Oakland-based Urban Strategies Council, the most serious attendance problems are concentrated in West Oakland.
The Oakland school district recently began collecting data of all of its students who were absent — not just those with unexcused absences. Now, principals regularly get lists of those students (those who have missed 10 percent of the school year) in an effort to get to the root causes of their absence and curb the problem.
Superintendent Tony Smith is scheduled to speak in Sacramento tomorrow at a forum on the subject hosted by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson. So is Hedy Chang, of Attendance Works, who did the attendance analysis for the Oakland school district with technical support from Urban Strategies Council.
As we discussed last summer on this blog, the problem of chronic absenteeism is not just prevalent in high schools, but in elementary schools as well.
In an interview today, Chang cited many factors that could lead to high absenteeism, many of which affect children in poverty disproportionately: foreclosure and housing instability; health problems, access to transportation, and violence. But she also said missing school tends to do much greater harm to poor children, who rely on school to learn how to read.
Chronic absenteeism in sixth-grade, she said, is a strong predictor of whether a student will drop out of school.
Chang thinks more districts should look at student absenteeism, not just truancy (unexcused absences) and overall school attendance. “You can have a kid in kindergarten rack up a ton of excused absences, but they’re missing a lot of school,” she said.
Do you agree?
Here is the presentation Chang gave to Mayor Jean Quan’s education cabinet last month: