Thousands of students in early grades miss weeks of school

Rebecca Harris | Catalyst Chicago

Preschool and the primary grades lay an educational foundation for children’s schooling, but chronic absenteeism in the early grades can crack that foundation—and in CPS, 15 percent of children in preschool through 3rd grade missed a month or more of school in 2010. A new study will shed more light on the problem and point the way toward solutions.

At Revere Elementary in Greater Grand Crossing, a whopping 82 percent of preschoolers and 36 percent of kindergarteners missed 18 days of school or more in the 2009-10 school year—just under a month of school in a district that has one of the shortest school years in the country. 

Missing so much class time takes an educational toll, at a time when children, especially low-income students—at Revere, 98 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch—need to get a good academic start.  Revere Principal Veronica Thompson notes that, as kindergarteners from the last two years have gone on to 2nd and 1st grade, those with the worst attendance “are definitely not as prepared.”

“We have an excellent, excellent Head Start teacher, but she worries she’s not as effective, because the students simply aren’t there,” Thompson says. “You have students who are missing weeks at a time.” 

With a new school year approaching, CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently launched the district’s annual back-to-school campaign by going door-to-door in a neighborhood with one of the highest truancy rates in the city—Auburn-Gresham, just west of Greater Grand Crossing – to highlight the need for good attendance. 

Indeed, Revere and other Track E schools—as well as schools that enroll mostly low-income African-American students or large numbers of students with disabilities—are more likely to have attendance problems, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of Chicago Public Schools data from the 2009-10 school year. (See graphics: Worse than averageUnequal attendance problemsMost preschoolers chronically absentLosing a month of school) In part, the problem stems from some parents’ lack of awareness that Track E schools start earlier—this year, Aug. 8, a month before the regular start on Sept. 6. 

Although the problem is more acute in these schools, it’s still an issue districtwide: At least 14 percent of kindergarteners and 62 percent of preschoolers were chronically absent in 2009-10, according to Catalyst’s analysis.  And nearly 24,000 students in preschool through 3rd grade missed 18 days or more of school—15 percent of all students at those grade levels. More research on the problem, and its impact on students, is about to get underway at the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Read more at Catalyst Chicago

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