Thursday, August 25, 2016

Children's Defense Fund Article

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Back to School
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As a new school year begins, parents, teachers and administrators are all thinking about how to make it the best year ever. One of the keys to student success sounds very simple but can make a profound difference: making sure every student is in school every day. This is not the case in many schools and school districts across the country. The Department of Education estimates that five to seven and a half million students miss 18 or more days of school each year, or nearly an entire month or more.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of school days in a school year for any reason. As part of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice have joined together to launch Every Student, Every Day: A National Initiative to Address and Eliminate Chronic AbsenteeismI was honored to participate in their national symposium to share what the Children’s Defense Fund has learned since our first report in 1974, Children Out of School in America. We found from examining census data that at least 2 million children were out of school for at least 3 months, including 750,000 between 7-13 years old. But there was no clear information on who they were or why they were out of school — so we knocked on thousands of doors in a variety of census tracts across our country to find and ask families why their children were home and not in school.

We learned that the large number of 7-13 year olds were children with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. Another large group were children pushed out by discipline policies who never returned to school. In Holyoke, Massachusetts, we found children who had recently migrated from Puerto Rico staying home when it got cold because they had no winter coats. In a rural Maine community we found children who couldn’t afford the local school district’s transportation fees and were unaware that the state would reimburse the local district for transportation costs. In other states like Kentucky the key barriers were book fees. We wrote: “If a child was not White, or was White but not middle class, did not speak English, was poor, needed special help with seeing, hearing, walking, reading, learning, adjusting, growing up, was pregnant or married at age 15, was not ‘smart enough’ or was ‘too smart,’ then, in too many places, school officials decided school was not the place for that child. In sum, out of school children shared a common characteristic of differentness by virtue of race, income, physical, mental or emotional ‘handicap,’ and age.
They were for the most part, out of school not by choice but because they had been excluded. It is as if many school officials had decided that certain groups of children were beyond their responsibility and were expendable. They excluded them arbitrarily, discriminatorily and with impunity.”

We’ve made enormous progress since then, especially for students with disabilities. After our report on Children Out of School in America, CDF and others worked together to push Congress to pass legislation that for the first time gave children with disabilities the federal right to a free, appropriate public education. But we haven’t solved the children out of school crisis. Children on the margins remain at greatest risk for some of the same reasons we documented more than 40 years ago.

A recent National Public Radio story on absenteeism featured Johns Hopkins scholar Robert Balfanz, who studies chronic school absenteeism, and a high-poverty elementary school in Baltimore making strides tackling
the problem: “[Balfanz] has studied high school dropouts for years, and in his research he kept seeing a red flag: chronic absences in elementary and middle school. Students who miss a couple days a month fall behind in reading — and if they can’t read, they can’t pass tests. ‘To miss a month of school when you’re 11 and 12, there’s got to be something behind that,’ Balfanz says — and at Wolfe Street Academy, there was. ‘The list included things like tooth decay, mental health issues, and not having a winter coat.’”

The Department of Education sees chronic absenteeism as: “a primary cause of low academic achievement and a powerful predictor of those students who may eventually drop out of school.” Chronic absenteeism is not to be confused with the problem of children being truant from school. Often when a child skips school, he is labeled as a discipline problem and ends up being suspended or expelled and sometimes even referred to law enforcement for action. We must prevent suspensions and expulsions for truancy. I have never understood why we put a child out of school for not coming to school instead of finding out why the child is not in school.

The Department of Education is now collecting the right data and doing something about chronic absenteeism by promoting ideas we know work. One common sense idea goes all the way back to our days of knocking on doors: More school districts are starting each morning by having staff call or visit every family whose child is absent from school to find out why. Others also connect with families as the school year begins. Some schools are making strides connecting eligible but unenrolled children with health insurance as they enroll in school, allowing those children to get the regular care they need to stay healthy and ready to learn. Some are partnering with health clinics to allow children to be treated on-site for chronic conditions like asthma that contribute to days of lost class time and which can now be addressed in a few minutes out of class. The Children’s Defense Fund and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, have partnered with school districts for more than a decade to develop a simple system that works. A new toolkit, “Happy, Healthy and Ready to Learn: Insure All Children!” to be released later in August, captures the lessons learned and provides resources for school districts to create their own programs with community partners.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is partnering with the Department of Education to promote housing stability for families so children aren’t kept out of school when they move frequently and lack necessary school records. Wraparound services also help keep children in school. Wolfe Street Academy in Baltimore, for example, provides a box of donated coats and other clothes in the cafeteria and like other community schools, provides mental health and dental services and a wide range of programs encouraging parents to get involved in their school community.

Many schools provide mentoring services to make sure students feel supported, nurtured, and encouraged to be there. The simple truth is every child needs to feel welcome at school and know that they will be missed by someone at school if they miss a day. Schools must make learning engaging and fun and always keep the children at the center. Those are the schools every child will look forward to going to every day.

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Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A New School Year, a New Education Law

Source: National PTA One Voice Blog
A multi-ethnic group of elementary age students are sitting at their desks working on an assignment. Their teacher is sitting with them and is answering any questions they have.
A multi-ethnic group of elementary age students are sitting at their desks working on an assignment. Their teacher is sitting with them and is answering any questions they have.
A new school year comes with new people to meet, new material to learn and new expectations. This year, it also comes with a new education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Across the country, states and districts are crafting new education plans that will guide the implementation of ESSA. The process of implementing the law presents an important opportunity for families and PTAs to help shape the future of education for our nation’s children. Under ESSA, parents are required to be “meaningfully consulted” during the development of the new education plans.

To empower families and PTAs to be at the table and active participants in state and local implementation of ESSA, National PTA has developed a wide range of resources at
In addition to these resources, National PTA recently hosted a webinar to delve into the specifics of how parents and PTA members can and should be involved in the implementation of the new law.

The webinar showcased two incredible PTA advocates: Kelly Langston, president of North Carolina PTA, and Otto Schell, legislative director of Oregon PTA, both of whom have been heavily involved in the ESSA implementation process in their respective states. They shared how parents and families are critical to making sure that state and local education plans meet the needs of all students. Jessah Walker, senior federal relations associate for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), also gave a state education leader perspective on ESSA and reiterated the importance of having parents and families as partners in the implementation process.

As the new school year gets into full swing, here are three quick things you can do to make sure you are ready for ESSA:
  1. Read “What Does this New Law Mean for My Child?
This resource is designed to give parents a basic understanding of what ESSA will mean for their children.
  1. Check out what your state is doing to implement the new law
Visit National PTA’s website and find your state to see the latest resources, events and news about the ESSA implementation process and ways to get involved.
  1. Advocate for your and every child
PTA members are leading advocacy efforts at the school, district, state and federal level to ensure better educational opportunities are provided for all of our nation’s children. This school year, let’s continue to build upon our 119+ years of advocacy by working with school and state leaders to help every student succeed.

National PTA encourages every parent and family to lend their voice to the implementation of ESSA. To learn more about what you can do to get involved and help improve education for your child and every child in your community, visit