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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
Commentary

No more empty desks


Published:

September means back to school for most of the country’s 55 million students. Too many students, though, will finish the month with two or three absences and, if that pattern continues, end up missing 10 percent of the school year.

These are the students who probably will do poorly in school, who fail to complete courses and who are at greater risk of dropping out.

We hope a new campaign that calls attention to the risks of chronic absenteeism will result in new efforts by states, schools and parents to get students to school and keep them there.

Forty national organizations have teamed with schools and community groups to call attention to the problem. The campaign includes research on the effects of absenteeism, public service and Twitter announcements, contests and other events.

“We know that virtually every parent wants their child to be successful in school — but often parents and even teachers don’t realize how quickly absences can add up to academic risk,” said Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works.

Studies show that 5 million to 7.5 million students miss nearly a month of school — excused and unexcused absences — every year.

The effects, starting as early as pre-kindergarten, can be debilitating. In early grades, it means children are less likely to master reading by the end of third grade; by middle and high school, it means students are more likely to drop out.

Attendance has too long been viewed as an administrative or compliance matter, not as a way to boost student achievement.

School districts too often focus on truancy without tackling excused absences, which can be as big a problem.

The answer may be as simple as assuring parents that a school can deal with a child’s health issue or arranging safe transportation.

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