Common sense tells us that kids can’t learn in class if they aren’t there. Yet too little attention has been paid to the link between attendance and the dropout problem.

Very young children who are frequently absent miss lessons that form the foundation for later learning. Consequently, they may not become proficient readers. The cost is high: poor and minority children with chronic absences in grades 1-4 are at much greater risk of later truancy, academic failure and dropping out.

Without a strong foundation, students often fall farther behind as they move up the grades. Catching up becomes more daunting if failures mount. By high school, students getting multiple Fs often show a pattern of skipping school because they’re giving up.

Our data reveals two urgent realities:

The absentee problem disproportionately affects students from poverty and students of color. District-wide mapping of chronic absenteeism by cluster (meaning a high school and its feeder elementary and middle schools) shows this starkly. See maps for elementary, middle, and high school levels. The maps show:

  • Schools that largely serve students from poverty and students of color have a markedly greater attendance problem;
  • The problem worsens as students move up the grades, affecting notably more students and schools at the high school level.

 

Fiscal impact of chronic absenteeism

As in most California school districts, SDUSD’s revenue is primarily based on average daily attendance (ADA). The district loses $32 per day for every absent student. Given the ongoing budget crisis, it’s crucial to note that a 1% increase in attendance would translate to an additional $6 million in revenue. These funds would bolster programs for all our students.