Which Foundation is Looking to Reduce Absenteeism Among Early Learners?

Ninety percent of success is showing up, and that holds true for education as well. To read at grade level, demonstrate proficiency in math, graduate high school on time, and be college-ready, you first have to attend school regularly.

Research has shown the importance of regular attendance and that frequent absence is a warning sign that intervention is needed to prevent a child from becoming at risk for academic failure. This is as true for young children in kindergarten and early elementary grades, as well as those in later years of schooling. Regular school attendance in those critical early years is significantly correlated with reading on grade level by third grade, a milestone predictive of future academic success.

Earlier this year, we told you about the various funders targeting chronic absenteeism in school. The definitions and methods for measuring differ across states, but in general, chronic absence refers to a student missing at least 10 percent of school days for any reason — excused or unexcused. In most states, 10 percent translates to between 18 and 20 days, equivalent to nearly an entire month of school days.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation is one of the funders taking aim at this problem. Recently, the Michigan-based foundation awarded $500,000 over two years to the Child and Family Policy Center (CFPC) to ensure that data, policy, and everyday practice trigger action at the local, state, and national levels to reduce chronic absences, especially in those critical early years.

CFPC is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, but its policy advocacy work extends nationwide. It conducts research and evaluation, and provides technical assistance in areas related to policy involving children and families.

CFPC has had its eye on chronic absence for several years now, and the center is a past recipient of support from Kellogg. Since 2011, the funder has awarded CFPC more than $750,000 in grants. This latest grant is the single-largest award Kellogg has given the center.

As a growing number of states and school systems recognize that the traditional average daily attendance measure often masks serious attendance problems — often among its most vulnerable student populations — there is a growing interest in measuring and intervening with chronic absence. Kellogg and other funders are right to take notice of this problem, and it is hoped other education funders will join in as well. All the academic interventions, standardized testing, and college readiness programs in the world will have little effect if students are not showing up.