THE U.S. Department of Education released a disturbing report a year ago that labeled chronic absenteeism as a "hidden educational crisis" in American schools.
Sobering statistics compiled by the agency revealed that 13 percent of students -- more than 6.5 million nationally -- miss more than 15 days of school each year, its threshold for being classified as chronically absent, or truant.
The problem is most acute in some inner-city schools, where a high number of families are living in poverty, and the truancy rate can exceed 50 percent in extreme cases, but school districts across the country are witnessing the negative impact of students missing too much classroom time.
Quincy Public Schools, for example, reports that 13 percent of the more than 6,300 students who were enrolled last year had nine or more unexcused absences, its target for being considered truant in a 180-day school year. That stood above the statewide average of 10 percent.
In response, QPS has launched an initiative, Attendance Adds Up, to educate students, families and the community on the importance of being in school.
The plan was developed through the Coalition for Quincy Children, which was created 18 months ago by Superintendent Roy Webb as a way to get staff and community members involved in issues important to the district, beginning with truancy.
It's evident that the opportunity to learn is diminished if kids are not in class. Education experts say younger children are more at risk of not being able to read at grade level by third grade and teenagers are more likely to drop out in high school if they are frequently absent.
With that in mind, the Quincy coalition has developed an awareness campaign -- using fliers sent home with students, social media posts, parental events and presentations to community organizations -- focused on reducing truancy.
Moreover, each school building in Quincy is incorporating ways to recognize good attendance by stressing the importance of being at school, working with families to get students to school and developing ways to support students who return to class after being absent several days in a row.
Marilyn Smith, the district's student support and family liaison coordinator, told The Herald-Whig that no one reason stands out for kids missing class. However, research locally shows that a high percentage of absenteeism stems from social or emotional issues involving a child or family, something educators are attempting to address.
"If some family support or structure needs to happen, we're working with service groups and community organizations to help support families to get children to school," Smith said.
That Quincy educators have identified chronic absenteeism and truancy as a serious problem, and are involving community members and organizations in creating ways to address it, is a positive sign that progress can be made.
September is Attendance Awareness Month. With the school year just beginning, we should focus on making sure kids are in class each day so they will have the opportunity to learn and reach their full potential.
Attendance does add up.