Twenty percent of New York City’s elementary students missed a month of classes or more during the last school year, according to a recent report. In middle school, 24 percent of students missed 20 or more days; by high school, chronic absenteeism rose to 40 percent. In low-income neighborhoods, the number of no-shows was even higher.
At Public School 55, where 20 percent of the students were chronically absent, the principal, Luis Torres, said he had worked to expand a school health clinic so children would not have to miss a full day to visit the doctor. He also hired an outreach counselor to work with immigrant parents to explain that every school day really mattered.
“Other times, it was just that it was raining,” Mr. Torres said. “I had to say, ‘I understand that it’s raining, but that’s not a reason not to come to school.’ And then I just had to get them an umbrella.”
Not surprisingly, kids who miss a lot of school in the early grades tend to fall behind and drop out later on.
It’s hardly an “invisible problem” to inner-city teachers, writes Robert Pondiscio at Core Knowledge Blog.
In my South Bronx elementary school we regularly promoted students who missed dozens of school days, as long as they passed — or even came close to passing – a single standardized test. In a particularly acute case, I fought unsuccessfully to have one of my 5th graders held over who missed nearly 100 school days. He received a 1 (below grade level) on his state math test and a 2 (”approaching” grade level) on his ELA exam and was passed without even having to attend summer school. As long as he scored a 2 or better on either of the tests, I was told, he had to be promoted. God help that kid. Three years later, I still get angry thinking about it.
A San Jose K-8 school district with a lot of Mexican immigrant students started sending police officers to parents’ doors to explain that it’s illegal to keep healthy children home from school to babysit, translate or just sleep in. Attendance improved dramatically.