JUNE 16, 2011—A new data analysis by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School shows a dramatic decline in the number of elementary and K-thru-8th grade schools with very high rates of chronic absenteeism among students. In the 2006-07 school year, 31 percent of these city schools were dealing with crippling levels of chronic student absenteeism. By 2009-10, that number had dropped to 15 percent of elementary schools.
The Center defines a student as chronically absent if they miss 20 or more days in the school year, which is approximately a month of school. During the 2006-07 school year, 30 percent or more of students were chronically absent at 216 elementary and K-thru-8th grade schools. This number declined to 105 schools in the 2009-10 school year.
While the absenteeism numbers are still very high, the sharp decline after 2008 shows improvements that may be related to steps taken by the Department of Education following the publication of the Center's October 2008 report, Strengthening Schools by Strengthening Families.
In the 2008 study, the Center revealed the extent of a heretofore unrecognized problem: 90,000 elementary school children per year were missing more than one month of school each year, and a very high percentage were missing even more. The study prompted policy changes in the Department of Education, including the creation of a new, weekly early-warning system to alert principals when students missed more than a few days of school—and thus were in danger of becoming chronically absent. The city also implemented a training program for administrators in 75 city schools that had very high rates of chronic absenteeism.
The Department of Education's efforts were later supplemented by the Mayor's Task Force on Truancy, and Absenteeism, launched in June 2010. The data described in this release do not include the 2010-2011 school year, the period when the Mayor's Task Force began to coordinate services in several schools struggling with chronic absenteeism.
A number of elementary schools significantly reduced rates of chronic student absenteeism during the four years examined here. Schools that have shown steady declines in their numbers include:
JUNE 10, 2010—Today Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the creation of an interagency task force to address chronic absenteeism in the city's public schools. This is the largest step yet by City Hall in a year-long effort to address a problem brought to light by the Center for New York City Affairs in its 2008 report, Strengthening Schools by Strengthening Families.
The Center's study found that more than 90,000 children in grades K through five missed at least one month of school during the previous school year. In high-poverty neighborhoods, this number was far higher, approaching one-third of primary grade students. Missing one month—or 20 days of school—is "chronically absent," according to national standards.
"We can't afford to waste any time in tackling this issue," said Mayor Bloomberg today at a press conference at CS 61, a Children's Aid Society community school in the Bronx (watch the press conference webcast). "Chronic absences don't just signal current problems, they also predict future troubles for our young people. Consider that three out of four chronically absent students in the sixth grade never graduate from high school. Truancy is also associated with other outcomes including teen pregnancy, poverty and substance abuse. Chronic absenteeism is often the first step a child takes in the wrong direction. And the sooner we can identify its causes, the sooner we can get that child back on track."
The Center's 2008 report recommended a tightly targeted approach to addressing chronic absenteeism and family instability by creating stronger partnerships between public schools, human service agencies, community organizations, and other institutions. The Center proposed improving school-based outreach to families and strengthening access to family supports and early intervention. Today's announcement is a large step by the Bloomberg administration toward adopting some of the Center's recommendations, including a focus on using absenteeism data to more readily target effective family supports.
The task force includes the commissioners of a half-dozen city agencies and is headed by Chief Policy Advisor John Feinblatt. Its first policy recommendations, likely including more intensive data tracking and stronger community partnerships, will be announced in August.
"What we know about truancy and absenteeism, particularly at the elementary school ages, it's often about the health of kids, it's about asthma, it can be about domestic violence in the family, it can be about drug abuse in the family, abuse and neglect," said Feinblatt. "That's why this is important to us not to just define this as an issue at the Department of Education but it's an issue that involves ACS, the Department of Health, the Police Department that picks up kids who are truant... We'll make sure that we identify kids early using the robust absenteeism data that the DOE has, and make sure that no child is left behind."