How NYC Schools Addressed Chronic Absenteeism

  • September 7, 2016
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Following a report about the pervasiveness of chronic absenteeism in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2010 decided to take on one of the boldest cross-sector initiatives to tackle this issue in New York City public schools. The mayor realized that chronic absenteeism was a complex, underrepresented issue that would need a multi-pronged solution.

He created an interagency task force, and a comprehensive set of strategies were put into place with key partners, which included: the Department of Education, Administration for Children’s Services, the Department of Homeless Services, the Department of Health, the Department for the Aging, NYC Service, the Department of Youth and Community Development, the NYC Police Department, as well as private sector and community partners. Key strategies that were implemented through this effort include:

  • New York City Success Mentors Core: More than 4,000 chronically absent children at risk of school failure and dropout were matched with Success Mentors as part of this effort. At the time, this represented the largest and most comprehensive in-school mentoring program in the nation. This model has since been adopted by the White House as a part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
  • Asthma-Friendly Schools Campaign: Asthma was identified as a leading cause of chronic absenteeism in New York City. As a result, this effort included the launch of an innovative new campaign to reduce asthma-related absences by heightening awareness about asthma prevention and management, creating new 311 student asthma information and connecting existing asthma resources at schools and in the community to families in need.
  • New models for connecting schools to community resources: The effort created interagency infrastructure to help schools identify and access existing services in the community for students and families facing challenges contributing to chronic absenteeism.
  • Parent engagement: New strategies were developed for engaging parents, including Chancellor’s “Alert” letters, positive calls home and parent summits in schools and family homeless shelters.
  • New data and early warning tools: New tools were developed to help identify students who are on track to be chronically absent and to understand the underlying causes of chronic absenteeism. These included the development of a new Electronic Data Dashboard to provide ABC data (attendance, behavior and coursework) and first-ever data sharing confidentiality agreements, giving Success Mentors and partner community-based organizations access to student data in real time.
  • Innovative public-private partnerships: Strategic incentive programs were created with corporate partners to improve attendance and school performance, including shopping sprees, thousands of free backpacks and the launch of the Attendance Hall of Fame in partnership with the NY Yankees.

The program was piloted in 25 schools the first year, 50 schools the second year and 100 schools the third year, reaching 60,000 total students—including 10,000 at-risk students. By the end of the initiative, the results were positive and promising. Students in schools that were a part of the initiative were less chronically absent than those who were not.

Another key trend emerged from this program. Students who reduced their own absence rates saw academic achievement gains, too. This reinforces what we already know about engaged and present students. It also contradicts the idea that “off-track” students can’t get back on track.

This was a win for New York City public schools, and an example of how key partnerships can help reduce chronic absenteeism. Collaborative interventions can be effective. It is important to understand that this same initiative, if conducted in Los Angeles, for example, may have different results, but the key is to find data, partner with those conducting the data and act on that evidence. Read the full report on this initiative.

This is just one example of how a cross-sector partnership can help reduce chronic absenteeism in schools. For more information on building partnerships, check out section four of Addressing the Health-Related Causes of Chronic Absenteeism: A Toolkit for Action.