Patterson Elementary School serves a population of 320 students, 96 percent of whom are black, in Washington, D.C.’s far southwest corner. In the past year, that school has achieved something amazing: a 50 percent reduction in chronic absenteeism.
Today, Patterson served as the stage for the reveal of an initiative aimed at reducing chronic absenteeism across the country by 10 percent each year. The U.S. Department of Education—in partnership with the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice—launched Every Student, Every Day: A National Initiative to Address and Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism.
Students are defined as being chronically absent when they miss 10 percent of school days for any reason, excused or unexcused. And the reasons for those absences vary, from issues with transportation to unmanaged chronic health conditions.
Healthy Schools Campaign knows that student health is both a cause and a solution of chronic absenteeism. Students struggling with health issues miss millions of school days each year—asthma alone accounts for 14 million missed school days a year. But ensuring that students are able to go to school each day in a healthy environment and have access to school health services they need is one way to reduce chronic absenteeism.
The National Collaborative on Education and Health, which HSC co-convenes along with Trust for America’s Health, has prioritized chronic absenteeism. A chronic absenteeism working group met twice this year, bringing together nearly 30 health and education leaders to develop strategies for engaging the health and public health sectors in efforts to address chronic absenteeism. This work informed the initiative that the administration announced today. More than 50 organizations—led by HSC, Trust for America’s Health and Attendance Works— signed on to a letter in support of this new initiative.
“Every day of school that a student is absent is a missed opportunity to learn and thrive. Addressing absenteeism means community partners coming together to better understand why children are absent and providing the necessary services and support to ensure that they’re in school every day and ready to learn,” said HSC President and CEO Rochelle Davis.
The Every Student, Every Day initiative focuses on collecting and acting on data; working with communities to put out positive messaging; building capacity in the community and in community-based organizations; and increasing accountability. “It’s common-sense—students have to be in their classrooms to learn, yet too many of our children, and most often our most vulnerable children, are missing almost a month or more of school every year,” Secretary Duncan said. “Through this national initiative we are partnering with communities and providing tools to help our all of our young people attend school every day, so that they are learning the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in school, careers and life.”
We know that health is key to ensuring students are in school and ready to learn. We look forward to working with the Department of Education and other partners on this initiative to make sure that all students are in schools, where they can learn and thrive.