Helping Students Succeed, One Day at a Time

Spring is a time when many teachers and students celebrate the end of the school year. It is a time to reflect on their powerful learning experiences and take pride in their progress. But for too many students, by the end of the school year they have lost out on many of these learning experiences because they have missed a significant numbers of school days.

Every year, more than 5 million American students are chronically absent, meaning they do not make it to class at least 10 percent of the time. They tend to have lower grades and proficiency levels, and they are more likely to fall behind on — and fall off — the path to success.

Chronic absenteeism is a strong predictor of whether a student will drop out of a school, and one that is stronger than their test scores. Compared to their peers who attend school regularly, high school students who are chronically absent are seven times more likely to drop out and not make it to graduation.

These students cannot afford to not graduate. High school dropouts earn an average of $8,000 less per year than high school graduates. Students who drop out are also more likely to be periodically unemployed, on government assistance, or in the justice system.

Moreover, our nation cannot afford to let these students miss school and drop out. An analysis by the Alliance for Excellent Education shows that if 90 percent of the Class of 2013 had graduated from high school, the United States would have gained major economic benefits, including an $11.5 billion annual increase in the national gross domestic product and the creation of more than 65,000 new jobs. It would have also led to an increase of nearly $2 billion in federal and state tax revenues because high school graduates, who are less likely to be unemployed or require welfare assistance than high school dropouts, are tax payers rather than tax consumers.

And remember, all of these economic benefits are for just one high school class.

Research shows how mentors, incentive programs, and attendance awareness campaigns can reduce the effects of chronic absenteeism. Building on this research, the U.S. Department of Education launched the Every Student, Every Day initiative in late 2015 to combat chronic absenteeism. This effort brings together government agencies, local stakeholders, and community organizations to address the underlying causes of chronic absenteeism, such as health issues, unstable home situations, and unsafe conditions in school.

There also are new tools aimed at motivating students to attend class. The Get Schooled Foundation recently launched the Get Schooled Breakfast Club, which sends high school students morning text messages from celebrities encouraging them to get out of bed and to school. The Breakfast Club is modeled on Get Schooled’s earlier campaign that used wake-up calls from celebrities to help students start the day off on the right foot.

Initiatives like these recognize that getting to school is the first step to getting through school. By working together and using new efforts to help students take that first step, we can drastically change students’ futures and improve our nation.

Bob Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.