Kansas City Public Schools doesn’t stand a chance of raising students’ academic performance and finally winning full accreditation unless educators can improve attendance in the district.
That’s no small matter.
▪ Nine of the Kansas City district’s schools, or 27 percent, have attendance rates of 69 percent or below.
▪ Five schools, or 15 percent, have attendance rates of 70 to 79 percent.
▪ Eight schools, or 24 percent, have attendance rates of 80 to 89 percent.
That leaves only 11 schools in the entire district on target for attendance of 90 to 100 percent. That’s what the state goal has been since 2012 — attendance of 90 percent of students 90 percent of the time.
All of these numbers matter a great deal for a few main reasons.
State funding for schools is largely based on enrollment and attendance. Also, children can’t learn unless they are in class.
September is Attendance Awareness Month in the United States. As the school year is just beginning, it’s important to make parents, students and everyone else aware of the need for kids to be in class. Perfect attendance should be the target.
Derald Davis, assistant superintendent of school leadership for the Kansas City district, explained at a recent school board meeting that just two absences a month put a student on the chronic absentee list, which is defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days. At two days a month, it adds up to 18 days a year, or nearly a month of school that’s lost.
It’s a national concern. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of students in the United States are chronically absent every year. Davis said 6 million kids a year missed at least 15 days of school nationwide.
It’s not a benign issue. Younger children become more at risk of not being able to read at grade level by third grade. Teenagers are more likely to drop out in high school, become homeless or get caught up in illegal activity.
The prisons are filled with people who were chronically absent from school.
The causes of chronic absenteeism include missing school buses, physical and mental health concerns, and parents or legal guardians being unaware of the problem.
School board member Amy Hartsfield said she didn’t know the scope of trouble. “This is really eye opening to me,” she said.
Davis explained the ways that the district will attack the problem, focusing a lot of attention on the bottom-performing schools. They are Faxon Elementary, King Elementary, Northeast Middle, Southeast/African-Centered Prep High, Troost Elementary, Central High, Northeast High, Success Academy at Knotts and Success Academy at Anderson.
Those in the 70 to 79 percent attendance range also will be pushed to do better. They are Wheatley Elementary, Rogers Elementary, Central Middle, East High and Paseo Academy.
Attendance will be monitored more closely at each school, and principals will lead weekly attendance meetings to identify problems and seek solutions.
Districtwide, a much-needed, new emphasis will be put on the importance of attendance with increased accountability for accurate reporting. Mentoring programs will pair students with adults to encourage attendance. The district also plans to celebrate its successes.
Kansas City school officials recently discussed incentives that a few other school districts are offering students to encourage them to make it to class.
The Raytown School District announced last month that high school juniors and seniors will have a chance to win two 2016 Ford Focus cars in raffles if the teens by the end of the year have maintained an average 95 percent or better in attendance.
In St. Louis, Whirlpool has donated washers and dryers to several schools to fight absenteeism. Children who didn’t have clean clothes to wear felt too embarrassed to go to school unkempt. Doing laundry at school helped solve the chronic absenteeism problem.
It’s important that schools continue looking at innovative ways to get children to attend school every single day. The Kansas City Public Schools effort must be highly focused on positive results all year long.