The hidden problem of chronic absence

Staff Photojournalistphoto by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

We’ve just posted a story I wrote about chronic absenteeism — when a student misses 10 percent or more school days for any reason, excused or unexcused.

A small, but growing number of school districts in California have begun to crunch the numbers to see which of their students are habitually out of school, and how many. Traditionally, schools have looked only at how many of their students attend school each day, on average, or how many were truant or tardy.

When you count excused absences, the number of kindergartners who miss 18 or more days of school might surprise you (unless you’re a kindergarten teacher).

In Oakland last year, 14 percent of the youngest students were chronically absent, but kindergarten absenteeism a problem for all kinds of school districts — big and small, rich and poor. One of my relatives, who teaches kindergarten at a private school in a very nice neighborhood, told me some parents keep their children home periodically just so they can spend time together, one on one.

This year, Oakland has launched an attendance initiative for kindergarten and first grades, called “Every Day Counts.” What is your school doing to educate families on the importance of attendance — and to help them get their children to school? Is it making its statistics available, by grade-level?

Teachers: Do you see the effects of absenteeism among your students?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nontcair

    Private schools don’t really how often someone misses class. Tuition is paid in advance — either by installments or even 100% up-front.

    If you don’t show up, well that’s *your* problem. So long as you don’t come back complaining about your kid’s rotten grade, a private school would be happy for your kid to NEVER show up.

    Of course compulsory attendance and the statutory school year means that a private school must still track attendance (submit sheets to the government?) and be prepared to answer snoopy questions.

    Public school funding is allocated based on some wonkish formula based on daily attendance figures over the recent past. So the schools feel every absence — even so-called “excused” ones (a parent needs the goverment’s permission!) — in the pocketbook.

    Once again we see special interests fighting over tax dollars.

  • makeitgoaway

    Who cares about private schools? Kids without books in their home or a chaotic home life need the stability of school (even in Kindergarten). The statistics show the reality of Oakland- transportation problems, unemployment, no food, lack of medical care, no money for child care costs, one parent families, children watching children, drug use, etc. The fact is that the children who do come through middle school are actually coming only to get breakfast and lunch and then go home. That is why free lunch programs are so important. Nextset, Nontcair and company, you had better understand this is the truth. The more time away from home and at school the better…

  • Yazstremski

    Nontcair: You’re not a teacher nor do you have a child at this age in school…yet here you are, 1st to post on whatever comes up. You’re like a broken record…we get and we’ve heard it dozens of times from you. Why don’t you consider getting off this blog and into a school, so you can see what actually goes on or just volunteer to help. Seriously, its enough.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Could some of the problems in kindergarten and first grade be a result of students being exposed to a large number of other children for the first time and the resulting increase in infectious diseases.
    I taught for 10 years before our first child was born and almost never used a sick day, but once our kids entered group day care there seemed to be endless ear infections and other illnesses that required one of us to stay home. I don’t think it added up to 10% of the school days, but it certainly might be a contributing factor.

  • anon

    #3 thank you!

  • Ex oakland staff

    re: #1 Nontclair “private schools don’t care about attendance.” This is not correct. At the private school where I teach, we take attendance electronically every hour. Any teacher who doesn’t turn in the attendance report promptly gets an urgent reminder before the end of the hour. Like public schools, private schools are legally responsible for their students during the school day and are accountable to parents for knowing where the students are at all times. Students who cut class or miss days get immediate follow up and/or consequences.

  • Observer

    Is that a teacher in that picture? Why is she dressed like she’s going to a barbecue at the beach on a warm day?

  • Yet another Oakland teacher

    The teacher is likely in a room with west facing windows, that by 1:00 in the afternoon is pushing 85 degrees or more. It is only a month or two in the fall and a month in spring, but many, many classrooms are stifling hot in the afternoons.

  • Murphy’s Law

    Lots of info about student absences. Fine.

    What about adult absences? Why don’t we ever here about teacher and principal absence rates at various schools?

    It’s one thing to say kids can’t learn when they’re out, but they they bear the primary scars from their (or their parents) decisions. When teachers or principals are out the impact is exponentialy higher.

    There seems to be a willingness to discuss student and teacher shortcomings, but we should hold the adults employed with our tax money to the same scrutiny.

    Everybody has reasons for being out. But if we’re going to report and discuss it, let’s do it for all.

  • Murphy’s Law

    …. and board member absences, superintendant absences.

    If we’re going to discuss absenteeism, let’s really look at it throughout the system

  • Nextset

    Are those visible tattoos on the right shoulder and arm of this teacher?

  • Katy Murphy

    One of my colleagues sent me a funny note about the sidebar about what kids are expected to learn in kindergarten:

    “Wow, Kindergarten sounds like a little hell. All those expectations, especially, `Know the difference between fact and fiction, or real and make-believe.’

    There goes Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Stop reading story books and read WSJ instead.

    Heck, sometimes I don’t the difference between fact and fiction.”

  • New teacher

    Nontcair– what real background do you have with schools? Are you a teacher or parent? You seem to have strong views but you never say where you are getting them.

  • Hope Salzer

    #7 & #11 For crying out loud, this is a Blog about substantive issues facing our public education delivery system in a state with a collapsing public education budget. If you’d like to comment on ‘Fashion’ issues, please visit a Fashion-oriented blog– at least this teacher showed up for the kids!

  • Nontcair

    We all pay taxes to support the schools. I think I have some standing to post here, especially since the newspaper that pays for it, which showed up (unsolicited) on my doorstep, published the URL in a feature on its FRONT PAGE.

    Perhaps the goal of this blog is to provide a forum for parents and teachers to discuss how to make the suck less. Go ahead. Knock yourselves out.

    Someone needs to *emphatically* make the point that the schools are a disaster which only serve the special interests, and the sooner we’re rid of them the better.

    Frankly, the rest of us are tired of paying higher taxes to buy sinecures & comfortable retirements for public union members, and to subsidize >= middle class parents who should be paying for *private* school.

    But don’t you fret none. After the election my anxieties will rapidly abate and I’ll go back into political hibernation.

    Then all you people can resume your fights over such crucial non-questions as whether OUSD should operate 130 schools or just 126.

  • Observer

    Actually, I think it’s a pertinent issue that teachers dress appropriately for work and that does mean covering visible tattoos and not wearing micro minis (especially while sitting in front of children who are sitting on the floor). It’s distracting and it tells young people that its ok to dress suggestively, no matter the occasion. If budget woes are to the point where we’re lucky a teacher-any teacher-show up who cares if they’re wearing, then maybe we should just quit.

  • Observer

    ” and to subsidize >= middle class parents who should be paying for *private* school.”

    Really? You believe I should pay over half my annual income to educate my children so you don’t have to pay anything to educate the tax payers of tomorrow?

    Well I don’t want to pay for your Medicare or social security anymore either. And I certainly don’t want my children contributing either. How about people like you sign an oath on penalty of imprisonment should you violate, that you will not take one dime of social security or Medicare and you can stop paying into them now?

  • Nontcair

    You can pay as little/much for your kids’ education as you wish.

    Why do you want *us* to pay a portion of our incomes to educate your kids’ education? What makes the taxpayers of tomorrow any more vital than the taxpayers of today (or of years past)?

    How about your family pays for my sports club membership? After all, studies show that aerobic exercise is a good way to stay fit(and reduce healthcare costs).

    Keep in mind that government regulations are what *require* private school to be expensive. In their absence you would likely have a LOT more options. For instance, a two hour per week school (@$25/wk).

    Nobody should be forced to pay for someone else’s retirement or healthcare. Where do I sign?

  • Nextset

    Michigan plans to cut welfare for truant kids:


    Laughable whining from the welfare “rights” people.

  • MuseKing

    (Responding to #16) Oooh, the teacher showed bare shoulders– how provocative! And a [visible] tattoo! Those should be invisible bec/ they are soooo suggestive! [of something R-rated, perhaps?] Nothing distracting should be worn by professionals– how about brightly colored clothing? WOW, her shirt is RED (that should perhaps also be restricted). What if s/he is possibly wearing [distracting] jewelry as well? …perhaps even a cross, or a star-of-David? Wow, now it’s intolerable, eh?
    Let’s not over-think this, shall we? We have MUCH bigger problems to solve in CA education. I’d bet good money that dictating a teacher dress code will NOT discernibly increase test scores nor student outcomes of any sort. And if you want to dictate a dress code to prevent distractions, perhaps you should start with the students themselves [particularly high schoolers, I’m told]
    This is not about supplying just a warm body to the classroom, this may be a VERY effective teacher– heck, the kids are engaged, many of them are raising their hands, they’re not tuned out– you know the old adage about the book and its cover.

  • Nontcair

    #19 wrote: Michigan plans to cut welfare for truant kids

    Once again we see public education taking hostages.

    No school, no football.
    No school, no drivers license.
    No school, no employment license.
    No school, no welfare check.

    Since taxpayers have had it and will refuse to pay higher taxes to feed never ending entitlement demands, the Democrat constituencies have to fight against each other. In this instance, the poor and the social workers versus the teachers.

    I LOVE IT!

  • J.R.

    “Michigan plans to cut welfare for truant kids”

    I think this is a necessary step because people want liberty and freedom, but not the responsibility that goes with that.

  • Nextset

    MuseKing: The reason the tattoo is interesting is because decent people don’t want their children exposed to tattooed ladies, except at a circus. Ditto the cleavage.

    Class is important. You don’t want public institutions to exemplify low/gutter class. That’s why white families (and those wishing that level of education) are sending their kids out of OUSD to better schools. They will not permit their kids to see 3rd world culture as normal or acceptable. It’s apparently ok for black kids and other minorities to have to go to school where they are subjected to poorly dresses “teachers” with visible tattoos. Too bad for them.

    Gee, I wonder if anybody looking like this is “teaching” at Piedmont Unified, Head-Royce, or any such school for high status children? Does going to OUSD mean you have to wallow in tacky conditions? Apparently it does.

    I suppose to each his own. But understand the difference and how this Brave New World is working. We are dividing our population by race and class and raising them so differently that these kids will no longer belong to the same nation. Their futures – their occupations, marriages, neighborhoods, grocery stores, medical providers, and language spoken will be determined for them at birth will no social mobility except down.

    Because we have one standard for the “teaching” of 3rd worlder kids and those who chose to identify with same and another for good white children.

  • New teacher

    Nontcair – what kind of schools did you go to? Since you seem so agenst the social contract does that mean you don’t go to public parks? Or drive on public streets? If there is a fire will you tell the fire department to go away and not help you?

    As for the people who can’t get over how the teacher in the photo is dressed since when does having a tattoo make you a bad person or some one “decent” people should avoid? think about the message that is sending to our kids, that it’s fine to look down on people based on how they look, that if you don’t look “normal” you are no longer a member of society worth caring about. Teaching children that is much worse then seeing a tattoo.

    Also I don’t know about Piedmont but at Head-Royce there are teacher who don’t fit your idea of a teacher some even have tattoos. what matters is if they are a good teacher would you put your child in a class with a bad teacher who didn’t have any tattoos and dressed in something you deem appropriate, or an amazing teacher who shows students how to love learning but has a tattoo.

  • Nontcair

    You mean the “socialist” contract. And it only goes one way. Yours. Why is there no social contract to provide me with a late model Maserati?

    Besides, a contract is a *voluntary* bargain.

  • Nontcair

    City parks frequently look like the city dump. Think *Oakland*. I think Alameda residents are facing a ballot question to raise taxes to support public parks (ie salaries and pensions for P&R employees).

    That’s a NO.

    Of course I oppose city parks. As soon as P&R starts consuming anywhere *close* to the 50% of the local general fund (as public education does with the State’s GF) I’ll start being a regular contributor (and critic) on iba’s P&R blog.

  • Nextset

    New Teacher – you run your “schools” your way, with circus acts and socialists if that’s what you want.

    See who goes to them. See who votes to fund them. See who is willing to hire your products.

    Decent people have standards and set standards. Especially where their children are involved. High Status children (or those hoped to become so) are not allowed to be handled by or exposed to certain things. With low status children it doesn’t matter. There are reasons for it, I won’t bother trying to explain them to you. If you haven’t learned the difference by now no one is going to bother with you. You see, you are where you belong, with those you belong with. Hope that works out for you.

    OUSD and LAUSD are low status schools and they like it that way. They attract a certain kind of student/families. This is a departure to the way public education was set up to be in the early 20th century, where the children were publicly taught how to fit in with higher class/middle class society just in case they were interested in social or occupational mobility. With the Civil rights movement of the late 1960s we made a decision to dumb down public schooling to make the chillun more comfortable. It’s all the pat on the back that holds certain people back.

    I suppose it’s ok as long as the black and brown kids could have chosen a good Charter. Like AIM. It’s all good. My wealthy/professional friends and their families have their kids in expensive private secondary schools. While it’s always possible there are some tattoos (not) their instructors have grad degrees at least. The less wealthy use Charters. Avoiding this nonsense is what they are selecting for.

    So the kids are segregated by birth into their respective castes, never really knowing each other. But they do know they are different. And they will keep it so, for life. It starts now in first grade. Your kids have teachers with tattoos and cleavage, and everything that goes with that. They keep it real. Good luck with that.

    Brave New World.

  • Nextset

    While we are on the subject of a the necessity of having a professional appearance in public service and especially as a public school teacher, I thought I’d link to “People of Walmart”… Just to give ideas of how far people can take it when they are keeping it real.


    You may see single mothers coming on the the school property looking like some of the women in these photos. After all, they go shopping looking like this so why not go to the school too?

    Do the public schools enforce any standards for teachers or other adults coming onto the property?

  • Observer

    Why does it matter? Because the vast majority of OUSD students that do manage to graduate high school still only manage to get menial jobs either in labor or the service industry, and then in the form of cashiers, not servers in even mid range restaurants. They do not have any idea how to dress or speak appropriately when they go on a job interview. They emulate what they see in the adults arpund them. At home and in their neighborhoods the see attire (and tattoos) that iare designated by design to speak tom two things: sex and gang affiliation.

    It would only be beneficial to them if their educators would show leadership to them in all areas, including appearance. If you really believe ones appearance in a professional setting is of no consequence or should be, that is fine. But, I have to agree with Nexset (dammit), it is just one more thing (and a very simple thing to correct without hurting anyones individualism) in a long line of things educators and administrations allow that hamper the success of these children.

    To me it says she doesn’t care very much. That’s the message I get and I’m not the only one. Why risk sending the message out in such a precarious environment?

  • Nontcair

    Public schools must respect freedom of speech.

    No dress codes. No tattoo (“body art”) codes.

    My personal preference is that the schools hire CIRCUS FREAKS who can at least do the homework problems she assigns.

  • J.R.

    I have to agree as well, children are easily influenced and because of that they must have self-respect, behavior, and restraint modeled for them at home and school. If we want students to have as normal a life as possible(considering their difficulties at home)we must acknowledge that every little detail counts. This is not a “rights issue, freedom of speech”, as much as it is a willingness to think about others benefit before your own selfish interests. The whole notion of tat’s and baggy pants being a rights,freedom of speech issue is patently absurd. If you “do it for the children’s sake” then by all means do it professionally and decently with some degree of decorum.

  • Nontcair

    It’s not a Newton’s Law Of Universal Gravitation issue either, but that law still applies.

    And it’s patently absurd to think that it doesn’t.

  • aly

    teachers absolutely feel the effects of absenteeism, and they continue well beyond kindergarten. my students in middle school that are chronically absent have history that extends to early elementary, and the same pattern existed when i taught high school. it doesn’t come out of nowhere.

    you see the effects most notably in the skill and learning gaps of students as they continue to age and the work becomes more complex. it’s one thing to miss a day of school when you’re learning colors or the abc’s; society usually has ways of patching those things up for you, but when you start to miss phonics, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, that follows you until you hit middle school and can’t keep up with basic math or reading. dropouts don’t just happen in high school- they are kids that have been missing out from day one.

    what i find most frustrating is how difficult it is to hold families accountable for attendance. parents come take their kids out for two weeks to go on trips, or with no explanation at all other than “it’s personal”, and we’re in no position to question it. students come to school an hour late every day and cannot be SART’d because that requires missing the entire school day, as far as i’ve been told. not to mention that once you *do* SART someone, moving on to SARB is a mountain of paperwork that has to be perfect or it gets kicked back. the fact that we have red tape getting in the way of getting kids in school blows my mind. this should be a pretty clear cut and dry process: is the child coming to school? have you attempted to call home? did you schedule a SART and they either failed or didn’t show? BAM. that should be it. but turning in logs of prior year’s attendance (especially difficult when students weren’t at our school the year before), teacher reports, transcripts, contact logs, etc… it takes me almost a day to prepare a SARB package for a student, all while risking it may not go anywhere.

    i am surprised that we DON’T do what michigan does in terms of holding families accountable: if you want your check, make sure your kid gets to school and stays there. plain and simple. how could that possibly be a bad thing???

  • Nextset

    Aly: The proper thing to do for chronic absenteeism is to EXPEL THE CHILD.

    You don’t fix them, you don’t beg them, you don’t do anything else, you get rid of them. You transfer the child to a continuation school that is in business to manage the trash students and their parent. A good school does not concern itself with why the child and it’s parent is screwed up, it moves them to a more appropriate school and focuses on those who are able to function within the program offered.

    In so doing you preserve the integrity and reputation of the real school. OUSD stopped this – clear policy from decades ago – when OUSD stopped running real schools and instituted the holding pens they now preside over.

    I’d love to see OUSD return to the glory days of actual schools, where even black kids don’t have to go to “school” with madness. The black and brown kids of Oakland deserve the chance to go to real schools – like SF’s Lowell High. They shouldn’t have to transfer themselves to AIM or a charter to do so.

    In my East Bay high School students were expelled up to the graduation ceremony. I close friend was expelled 2 weeks before graduation for tardiness & truancy and given a diploma from the continuation school after 4 years in my high school. He wound up in Viet Nam rather than college. We all learned something from that one. And at the graduation ceremony there was the comment from the principal that some of your classmates didn’t learn what was taught and that’s why they are not here. I thought that was a nice touch. So did my parents.

    My public school was serious about it’s work. OUSD is not.

  • J.R.

    You are correct, teaching parents personal responsibility by withholding public assistance checks would work and hold the parents to a measure of responsibility. Being in liberal California there is almost no chance of this happening, what is more likely will be feel good initiatives with no real teeth.

  • Nontcair

    Many claim to be big supporters of the 1st Amendment, but then when they see an instance of free speech which they find objectionable, they try to have it censured.

    Then when you call them on it they immediately respond with some mealy-mouthed rationale that free speech doesn’t apply.

    Don’t you just love those hypocrites?

  • Nontcair

    OUSD cannot afford to expel a youngster. He is worth too much in terms of future cash flow.

    However, expulsion *is* an option to those who are older and have exhausted most of their future cash value.

    Since that kid no doubt lacks basic skills and weighs down OUSD’s dismal test scores it has an incentive to flush him (late in the game), ie bury their mistakes.

  • J.R.

    Let me flesh it out for you so even you can understand. People can choose to dress the way they like, consequently they run the risk of being perceived a certain way(which other people have the right to, it works both ways) which may limit opportunities(such as employment). In the case of children(who are not yet mature enough to take all this into account), good behavior,manners,patience,and the way one carries her/him self must be modeled and exemplified if we want them to be successful in life. So the question is ” do we have to dress well”? The answer is no, we don’t have to have standards for anything. If we want a child to be more and have higher aspirations we must expect more from all involved. It is natural progression simply put.

  • Nextset

    Nontclair: You are having Constitutional Fantasies again. You need to go to school so you can understand what you are trying to talk about.

    Before you get yourself and other people hurt.

  • Nontcair

    Again, what part of A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech .. do you not understand?

    Why do so many people who went to school expect me to believe that down is up and up is down?

    What exactly do they teach in those schools?

  • Nextset

    The teach the exceptions. You really should learn them.

  • Nontcair

    .. may not restrain, except when the government says so.


    Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound?

    And you want *me* to go to school?!


  • Nontcair

    How many times have you heard conservatives decry liberal judges who legislate from the bench?!

  • Nextset

    Nontclair: You really sound childish. It’s interesting how you persist in saying the world is how you want it to be, damn the reality. Your complaining about the way the Constitution and Law works is exactly why some people let into law school can never pass the bar.

    Let’s try a grade school approach. The Constitution has an Amendment on “Freedom of Speech” but yet there has never been a freedom to falsely yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. Grok that?? For each of the amendments and indeed the original Constitution itself there are chains of Appellate Cases including chains of US Supreme Decisions – some of them unanimous – limiting, defining and explaining the meaning we are giving words and phrases.

    While it’s true from time to time there may be political perversion of the words, that is not a constant thing and this is the process we all use. Many of the cases involved are NOT controversial. Such as that thing about yelling fire for malicious fun. Manufacturing Federal Constitution Abortion policy out of whole cloth is controversial.

    The reason you can’t manage any of this is that you appear to be manic – and narcissistic. You might want to have that checked. If I am correct in what’s going on in your head, if unchecked it may reach toxic levels.

    I have seen runaway judges – I’ve appeared before Rose Bird and was quite pleased to see her removed in disgrace by the electorate. I will always remember a different judge – who I liked a lot – tell me “I don’t care what the law says, I want that gun” in a gun possession case where a taxi driver had a gun at a time where there was case law that all of them in CA (if not an otherwise disqualified person) were entitled to. The phrase “I don’t care what the law says…” stuck with me because judges usually never actually say that.

    My point is that you are more interested in the importance of having your way to the exclusion of playing the game of legal analysis or participating in a debate and defending your point logically. Thus my suspicion of personality disorders. We see that a lot with people acting crazy in court, I’m familiar with the signs.

    We also see gullible people taking advice from people such as you and getting really burned from that false step.

    You try to slick your commentary with words of liberal and conservative. Dealing with chains of appellate case law is often not a matter of liberal or conservative as much as generations of people dealing with fact patterns that may or may not fit the situation today. It is history and experience. A law degree is a history degree.

    The thing is, on a weekly basis it seems something is coming up for the first time. We use history to argue what should be done about something today – that is until the legislature, always late, gets around to actually creating a new published rule to handle the new problem. By which time the “problem” has sometimes altered facts again. Medicine may have such issues too. These professions are called a “practice”. Not for amateurs.

    Just imagine what the legal department at Apple goes through in a month.

    Have a nice day.

  • New teacher

    I feel sorry for most of you who are posting here.
    Just as a side note I never said I supported how the teacher was dressed and I would never even think of dressing like that at work or anywhere for that matter. My main point was there are bigger things to worry about yes teachers should dress in a way that tells kids school is important. Also tho right now I work in an OUSD I have worked for a few years in one of your rich privet school so get over your self. You have all answered a lot of my questions about where our kids get such closed minds for my self I will stick to working with my students and you can all fight it out I wish you luck.

  • Nextset

    New Teacher sounds like a student. Do these people even have four year degrees from a real college?

    Public discourse is not about flattering people, making other people happy, telling people what they want to hear… all of those things. Above all it’s about keeping emotions in check and dealing with issues debated. This isn’t the kid’s table.

    We post here for excercise, and to hear what other people who go into these schools see and think. We will never all agree with each other. If we did this would be boring and we’d think of nothing new.

    New teaqcher’s comment about kids having closed minds is interesting. he should elaborate. In my experience the kids’ minds are so open their brains are falling out. Which leads us back to the race varied mortality tables.

    brave New World.

  • Nontcair

    Narcissism. Really.

    Quote the constitution *verbatim* and there’s no telling how the crazies will react. I’m surprised you didn’t accuse me rolling through stop signs.

  • Nontcair

    Rothbard totally debunked that “fire in a crowded theatre” lawyer’s argument. It’s a property rights issue.

  • Nontcair

    Those “chains” of appellate cases you allude to are just more of the same old appeals to politically motivated authorities.

  • Nontcair

    Your insinuation that folks holding my point of view would have difficulty ever passing a bar exam says more about how your “profession” enforces its orthodoxy.

    People who think like you would have a lot of trouble passing a simple English comprehension test.