Enrolling kids in preschool isn’t enough

A recent study revealed that D.C.’s preschoolers miss a whole lot of school. Universal preschool may not mean much if the kids who need it most aren’t there, but getting them there can be complicated.

Almost one in five D.C. preschoolers had more than 10 unexcused absences last year, according to a study recently released by DC Action for Children, a nonprofit that focuses on disadvantaged children in the District. And because that figure doesn’t count excused absences, it almost certainly understates the problem.

Those absences deprive many low-income children of their best chance to achieve at the level of their middle-class peers. Kids who miss a lot of preschool are more likely to start kindergarten without the skills they need, and they may never catch up.

The truancy rate, defined as the proportion of students with more than 10 unexcused absences, was 17 percent for preschoolers and kindergarteners in DCPS last year. The only category of students with a higher rate was high school students, at 42 percent. The truancy rate for students in grades 1 through 5 was 7 percent, and for those in grades 6-8, it was 8 percent.

While high school truancy has attracted a good deal of attention, preschool truancy has been largely overlooked. What’s more, actual absenteeism in preschool is almost certainly much higher than the truancy rate would suggest. That figure only counts unexcused absences, when students don’t have a note from a parent with a valid reason, such as illness.

Excused absences are more common among younger children. But DCPS doesn’t track the number of students who miss more than 10 days of school for any reason, excused or unexcused. That rate, which is tracked by most other jurisdictions, is called the chronic absentee rate, and it’s considered to be the best measure for identifying students who are at risk.

[Continue reading Natalie Wexler’s post at Greater Greater Education.]

Natalie Wexler is the editor of Greater Greater Education and a member of the board of the D.C. Scholars Public Charter School. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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Natalie Wexler · May 13, 2014