In an article published last month, Chalkbeat’s Patrick Wall reported that early data shows attendance gains in Newark, New Jersey, as a result of a district push to combat absenteeism. Wall reported that Superintendent Roger León launched an attendance campaign this past school year called "Give Me Five," where every district employee reminded five students to show up for the first day of school.

León proudly announced that 24% of students were classified this year as chronically absent, a number that is a 5.4 percentage-point improvement over the previous year, which translates to 2,100 fewer students missing 1% or more of school days. Additionally, Newark Schools also improved their average daily attendance rate from 86 to 91% this past year.

Newark has long been under the state’s microscope for its attendance issues. Although year-to-year attendance rates can be impacted by many outside factors, the jury is still out on whether Newark has found a long-term solution to its problem or not. Still, New Jersey State Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet acknowledged at a recent board meeting, “I’m very encouraged with the city of Newark.”

Newark is not alone in its efforts to combat chronic absenteeism, an issue that plagues many communities from coast to coast. I discussed the impact that schools face as a result of chronic absenteeism by students in this 2018 MultiBriefs Exclusive.

In that article, I referenced an Education Week report, which identified 1 in 7 students as chronically absent in the 2015-16 school year, meaning that they missed 15 or more days of school. The report, along with other data and documentation, led lawmakers to prioritize a chronic absenteeism metric for inclusion in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The Department of Education summarized the greatest impacts felt by schools as a result of this issue in this report:

  1. Chronic absenteeism may prevent children from reaching early learning milestones.
  2. Irregular attendance can be a better predictor of whether students will drop out before graduation than test scores.
  3. Frequent absences from school can shape adulthood.

The DOE provides a toolkit that schools can use to eliminate chronic absenteeism. The kit, entitled “Every Student, Every Day” can be found here. It includes tools and strategies that can be used by a variety of groups, including youth; parents and families; mentors and volunteers; school district superintendents and staff; school personnel; early learning providers, healthcare, public health and human services agencies and providers; public housing authorities; juvenile justice and law enforcement; homeless services providers; mayors and local government; and community, faith-based, and philanthropic organizations.

All these groups share the responsibility of working to eliminate chronic absenteeism among students in our nation’s schools. The department makes a bold call to action: “There are consequences to inaction. There are consequences to indifference. And they reverberate far beyond the walls of the projects, or the borders of the barrio, or the roads of the reservation. They sap us of our strength as a nation. It means we’re not as good as we could be. And over time, it wears us out. Over time, it weakens our nation as a whole.”

Many would argue that attendance problems start at home, and therefore could and should be resolved their first. When possible, outside organizations should work with parents and families to help them take the first step towards addressing the matter in the home.

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics made a call to action to parents in an effort to curb chronic absenteeism by children in schools. In this informational article, the AAP offered parents these practical tips parents can use to get their children to school on time, every day.

  • Set attendance goals with your child and track your child's attendance on a calendar.
  • Help your child get a good night's sleep.
  • Prep the night before to streamline your morning.
  • Try to schedule dental or medical appointments before or after school hours.
  • Schedule extended trips during school breaks.
  • Don't let your child stay home unless he or she is truly sick.
  • Talk with your child about the reasons why he or she does not want to go to school.
  • If your child has a chronic health issue such as asthma, allergies, or seizures, talk with your pediatrician about developing a school action plan.
  • Follow the rules.
  • Keep track of your child's attendance and investigate reasons when the days missed add up.

Will Newark’s successes be a model for others to follow in the coming years? Only time will tell. For now, a small victory is still a victory for Newark and our nation as a whole.