According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 6.5 million students nationwide — or 13 percent of all students — are chronically absent, defined as being absent 15 or more school days during the school year.
Success factors and processes
John Gratto suggests 10 important actions to prevent students from drop out of schools.
- Create a culture in which all teachers and staff purposefully develop relationships with students. 17.7 percent of dropouts stated, "No one cared if I attended," which is an entirely preventable problem. Principals should reinforce that critical link between relationships and attendance, set expectations for developing relationships with students, and model those expectations. Teachers, coaches, advisers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, secretaries, and others should also be expected to take on the role of building relationships with students.
- Create a mentor program. Another powerful strategy to improve attendance can be setting up a mentor program. Mentors create an ongoing positive effect as students realize that at least one adult really cares about them. That could be enough to encourage kids to want to go to school.
- Monitor attendance and follow up on students with weak attendance. When I was a principal, I looked at attendance data from the previous year to determine which students had the worst 25 percent attendance. I met with them and their parents before the school year began to encourage them to improve their attendance. I also asked if there was anything I could do to help.
- Minimize obstacles to attendance. Maybe kids are avoiding bullies, are embarrassed about their clothes, need access to a shower, need child care, or have an issue with drugs. Perhaps they are struggling in class or experiencing conflict with a teacher. You must know the source of problems before you can solve them, so delve into the reasons for absences. If you have developed a positive relationship with kids, they are likely to tell you the reasons for their absences and welcome your intervention to help them.
- Create opportunities for meaningful involvement. Athletes, as well as students who perform in band, chorus, theater, or virtually any other extracurricular activity, have a positive, meaningful connection to school. So, promote involvement in extracurricular activities.
- Treat kids with dignity and respect - as if they were your own. Sometimes students behave badly and punishment is warranted. It takes very little skill, though, to merely administer the specified consequences. Doing so handles the immediate issue but does not build relationships or cause students to be self-directed in a positive way.
- Consider alternatives to suspension. Principals should carefully consider the impact of suspension on students' grades. In-school suspensions should be accompanied by teachers providing the lessons and work that a student would have been taught in class.
- Teachers should model excellent attendance. The 2013–14 Civil Rights Data Collection compiled by the Department of Education (US) demonstrates that the attendance of teachers has a strong relationship to the attendance of students.
- Tap community resources to help. Sometimes the efforts of school personnel aren't enough. Enlist the help of community partners. Pastors can encourage excellent attendance. Food banks, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, local churches and shelters, or other community agencies can often provide help to people in need, therefore resulting in better attendance.
- Use the juvenile justice system, if necessary. In most states, juveniles with chronic absenteeism can be referred to the state court system and have legal pressure applied to them.
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Target group of good practice:
School leaders & Teacher educators
John R Gratto
Department of Educational Leadership at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA.