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    Thursday, June 20, 2024

    White House praises Conn. for efforts to reduce student chronic absenteeism

    Connecticut was praised by the country's top education official for its approach to reducing student chronic absenteeism.

    Gov. Ned Lamont gave a virtual address at the "Every Day Counts Summit" at the White House on Wednesday. New Haven Superintendent of Schools Madeline Negrón also attended.

    U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, a former Connecticut education commissioner from Meriden, announced more than $250 million in new grant awards and a proposal for more than $8 billion of additional funding for next fiscal year to reduce chronic absenteeism.

    "Chronic absenteeism is a symptom of other problems," Cardona said.

    Maybe parents need students to help translate at a medical appointment, or students are experiencing housing or food insecurity, Cardona said.

    Students need to be excited about going to school and see how learning connects to the real world, Cardona added.

    New Haven's Davis Academy recently added several in-school clubs, from chess to salsa dancing to yearbook, to incentivize student attendance.

    He also spoke about the need for more full-service community schools, which incorporate more social services. Two schools in the Fair Haven section of New Haven have already received federal grant money to do just that.

    Cardona said schools need to prioritize direct family engagement and shouted out Lamont and Negrón.

    During a brief virtual address, Lamont spoke about the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program, or LEAP, which began in 2021 with American Rescue Act funds.

    The program includes outreach workers in 14 districts who work with families on the issues causing the absences. Some districts send personalized text messages and knock on families' doors.

    A summit presentation broke down some causes for the absences into categories of barriers, including students getting a job to support their family; aversion, such as social anxiety; disengagement, such as a lack of connection with the school community and not seeing how school attendance helps them in the long run; and misconception, including thinking they have the same success with class online, and losing count and underestimating their absences.

    Some of the solutions include prevention through family engagement and letters to families; problem solving by identifying root causes; and mitigation, such as high dosage tutoring, according to the presentation.

    In New Haven, the district refers families to supports, holds attendance celebrations and leverages community partnerships to address its chronic absenteeism.

    New Haven's rate of chronic absenteeism dropped from 58 percent in 2021 to 2022 — which was the highest in the state and considered a "crisis level" — to 36 percent in 2022 to 2023.

    Last year, the state's rate dropped from its four-year peak of 23.7 percent in 2021 to 2022 to 20 percent in 2022 to 2023, according to EdSight, the state's education data website.

    East Haven, seeing low graduation rates, added several measures to combat absenteeism, including enrichment periods, after-school study sessions and passing out food and coffee during student drop-off.

    Hamden recently announced a campaign to fight absenteeism, which is already dropping, with door-knocking, mentoring programs, and mail and text "nudges."

    In a state assessment ranking, Cheshire scored well in academic performance and graduation rates, but underperformed in attendance.

    Greenwich has used counseling, social work, outside agency support and home visits to reduce its absenteeism rates. Home visits have also helped Norwalk.

    In 2023, the Bridgeport area was seeing higher absenteeism rates than the state average, with Ansonia lowering its rates through home visits and other family outreach. The Danbury area has also worked to bring its rates down.

    Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden said chronic absenteeism cannot be accepted as "the new normal."

    "Most importantly, kids need to know that there's someone in the school that has their back," she said.

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