The Student Attendance and Enrollment Crisis
Student attendance is the leading indicator of student success but pre-pandemic, approximately 8 million (or 15%) of U.S. children were chronically absent. In the last year these numbers skyrocketed, but because many states did not prioritize attendance data collection, we may never know the true extent of the problem.
What we do know is that public schools have also lost over one million students—mostly in kindergarten and elementary grades and from low-income households. These students were not absent—they were never enrolled. The implications of this are dire: our most vulnerable students, who were already starting from behind, are now facing even more hurdles, not just academically but also socially and emotionally.
And because district funding is tied to attendance and enrollment, as well as ESSA accountability plans, districts may find themselves with less money in the future if they don’t find a way to re-enroll and re-engage students.
But the news is not all bad. We know that family and student engagement is key to combating chronic absenteeism and there are steps that schools can take right now to start the school year strong and lay the foundation for a successful 2021–22.
Making a Plan for Family Communication and Engagement
Bringing students back to school—and keeping them there—requires advanced planning and investment of people and resources. As you develop your plan for engaging students and their families, take a moment to consider the following to help you maximize your engagement plans.
- How will you reach families? By email, text, phone call, or via social media? Families are more likely to communicate when they can use a device they already have and when they don’t need to download an app or use a computer.
- While one-way communications are great for notifications, engagement comes through two-way communication. Do you want families to only respond when you reach out to them or do you want to encourage them to initiate conversations?
- Are you communicating in a family’s home language? Over 67 million people and over 22% of children in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home.
- What information will you share with families?
Attendance (absences, lateness)
Grades / Report Cards
Starting the School Year Strong
It’s never too late to engage with students and their families, but taking a few simple steps at the beginning can help you set the tone for the rest of the year. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Leverage your data and data systems. Although understanding attendance data from the last year might be tricky, it’s worth taking the time to review any available data and plan for the upcoming year. Your attendance data can help inform the actions you take and can help you set up attendance tiers and automatic notifications.
- Have a plan for collecting and updating contact information. Inaccurate or missing parent contact information is one of the largest barriers to engaging students and families. This step-by-step guide shows how to update contact information and reach the students and families that likely need you most.
- Send surveys to gather feedback and input from students and families. Ask students and families how they feel about the upcoming year, if they need additional help, and what they need help with. Use the survey to collect updated contact information. Check out Kinvolved’s sample Family and Student Wellbeing survey and feel free to make a copy to use.
- Identify students most at risk and reach out in the first week of school. A quick “How are you? How is your family?” can go a long way to supporting student and family well-being.
The attendance and enrollment crisis is very real, but by setting goals and having a plan to engage students and families from the first day of school (or earlier!) districts can take steps to make sure students are on track and stay there. What is your district doing to engage with students and families?
Kinvolved has spent nearly a decade working to prevent and reduce absenteeism and solve the attendance crisis in the United States. Read more about our work and our impact.
If you’d like support at any stage of your plan