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September 1, 2014, 10:22 pm

Mayors’ task force to fight school truancy

Chronic absenteeism — one of the major, yet under-discussed problems plaguing public education — won the attention of more than a dozen mayors who supported a proclamation and call to action during the recently concluded Conference of Mayors.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter – recently promoted as the organization’s president – also co-signed the resolution, authored by Providence, Rhode Island Mayor Angel Taveras. The resolution includes significant portions of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan, which calls for greater neighborhood accountability, and the strengthening of New York’s grade-level reading program.

Bloomberg created the Chronic Absenteeism and Truancy Task Force in 2010, and the program is now running in 50 New York City public schools. Bloomberg’s strategy included the sharing of early-warning data throughout the stakeholder network; school personalization geared toward 4,000 of the most at-risk students; the cultural reinforcement of the merits of attending school on a regular basis; data-driven accountability for teachers and school administrators, and a better in-school healthcare system.

“Kids who are chronically absent are more likely to drop out of school or become involved in juvenile crime — outcomes we will not accept,” Bloomberg said in statement released by the conference. “In New York, we’ve made great gains in reducing chronic absenteeism, and know there is more work to do here and across the country.

“The resolution from the US Conference of Mayors makes this issue the priority it needs to be so that our students are in school every day.”

Nutter, Bloomberg and Taveras were joined by former NBA player and Sacramento, Ca. Mayor Kevin Johnson, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Oakland, Ca. Mayor Jean Quan, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, Pembroke Pines, Fla. Mayor Frank Ortis and West Sacramento, Ca. Mayor Christopher Cabaldon in supporting the measure.

“For our cities to close the achievement gap and reduce dropout rates, we must get a handle on chronic absenteeism at every letter,” Taveras said in a statement released by the conference. “No matter how much we improve our schools, it won’t matter if kids are not in their seats to benefit. Ending chronic absenteeism requires all hands on deck.”

According to education officials, when a student misses 10 percent of the school year in all three categories – excused, unexcused and disciplinary – that student is considered to be truant; Nationally, one out of ten – an even ten percent – of all kindergarteners miss at least one month of school per school year; a recent Johns Hopkins University/Get Schooled Foundation report painted an even bleaker picture, noting that as many as 7.5 million students nationwide miss about a month of school every year.

Locally, the numbers are harder to pin down, but several reports show that 2,500 School District of Philadelphia students are absent on any given school day.

The resolution calls for the mayors to adopt three broad measures upon return to their respective cities. They are to raise public awareness about truancy and the dire consequences of acute absenteeism, encourage stakeholder engagement and generate excitement with parents to get their children to attend school on a regular basis, and finally, encourage schools to publish chronic absenteeism data, along with average daily attendance figures.

While a tough sell, especially given the other mitigating factors confronting school district throughout the country, educators believe this to be a crucial and necessary step.

“The mayors’ decision to champion chronic absence will ensure that more cities monitor this important data point and use it to guide action,” said Ralph Smith, the managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and also serves as senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “This is a problem we can solve when we begin to look at the right data.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .