State finally inks plan to combat rampant school absenteeism
Oregon education officials laid out their plans late Thursday for how to fight chronic absenteeism, a rampant problem in schools and a prime reason the state has one of the nation's worst graduation rates.
In a report required by the Legislature, the Oregon Department of Education and Gov. Kate Brown's Chief Education Office said they would deploy a team of on-the-ground experts to help the 30 percent of schools with sky-high absenteeism do better. They also call for more attention from the top.
But training and deploying those 20 coaches, along with other fixes laid out in the report, would first require the state to commit the resources to make it happen. That includes an estimated $7 million a year in funding, half of which would go to hire the coaches.
Gov. Kate Brown, who'd been briefed on the request for that money, did not specifically recommend any in her proposed $20.6 billion state budget Thursday.
Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of the school year. At the 350 Oregon schools with absenteeism crises, at least one in five students misses that much. The Oregonian/OregonLive first chronicled the depth, causes and impacts of that problem in a February 2014 special report, Empty Desks.
Missing that much school in kindergarten and first grade can mean never learning to read well. Missing that much in high school is a sure statistical sign that a student is unlikely to earn enough credits to graduate.
Only a handful of states have as big a chronic absenteeism problem as Oregon's, and there is no evidence it's substantially improved since the problem was first reported on a school-by-school basis in fall 2013.
Framers of the plan say they expect at least 80 percent of Oregon schools to have fewer than 10 percent of their students be chronically absent. Currently, just one in five schools meet that test.
On the flip side, they say it's reasonable to expect Oregon would have only about 3 percent of its schools, or fewer than 40, with at least 20 percent of their students missing so much school. Right now, 30 percent of all schools do.
Backed by new data tools and expertise from the two education agencies, the 20 attendance coaches would help those schools examine in detail what is going wrong not only at the school but also with families it serves. They then would make a customized plan to reverse those patterns.
Though Brown hasn't specifically recommended funding the coaches, she did recommend that her "education innovation officer," Colt Gill, be given a $20 million "graduation equity fund." A spokeswoman said Friday that Brown intends for Gill to devote some of it to fighting chronic absenteeism.
"Strategies for addressing attendance are essential to the governor's goal of improving graduation outcomes," spokeswoman Melissa Navas said.
The report also calls for the state to commit resources that don't cost money, including use of the bully pulpit.
Brown, Gill, state schools chief Salam Noor and Lindsey Capps, Brown's chief education officer, should all make the most of their influence in speeches, emails, State finally inks plan to combat rampant school absenteeism | OregonLive.com: