California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond convened a panel of experts today to speak about strategies to combat chronic absenteeism.
Nearly 750 school administrators, educators and education partners participated in the webinar to discuss ways to combat the serious issue of chronic absenteeism, which is defined as a student missing at least 10 percent of the instructional days that they were enrolled to attend school.
Wednesday’s event on chronic absenteeism was the first in a series of webinars that the California Department of Education will present on chronic absenteeism.
The event launched in partnership with Attendance Works, one of the nation’s leading authorities on attendance supports for students, schools, and families. Reducing chronic absence has always been a priority of Superintendent Thurmond, who worked for a community-based program that focused on reducing chronic absenteeism prior to serving in the California State Assembly, but the spike in chronic absence numbers has elevated the focus even more.
“Thirty percent of all California students are reported to be chronically absent, so this affects school districts throughout our state, and we all need to look at strategies and solutions,” said Thurmond. “But I ask that we not lose our equity lens. The consequences of chronic absence do not affect all students, all families, all schools and all communities equally. As we consider the critical information being heard today, I ask that you hold your lens at an equity angle. We know that African American students, Native American students, and youth who are engaged with the foster care and juvenile justice systems have chronic absenteeism numbers almost 10 percent higher than our other student groups.”
A longtime advocate of programs to improve attendance, Thurmond helped pass legislation in 2022 that resulted in billions of additional dollars that schools can use for a variety of programs, including improving chronic absenteeism. This includes a 13 percent increase in the Local Control Funding Formula and a nearly $8 billion discretionary grant that the state has provided for school districts to use for programs to support learning recovery.
In December 2022, Thurmond joined counselors from the Mt. Diablo Unified School District and visited the homes of families whose students were identified as being chronically absent.
“We saw firsthand and heard stories from many who tell us what is causing that increase in chronic absenteeism, and they talk about housing and food insecurities, transportation challenges, and—absolutely—mental health,” Thurmond recounted. “We want to get past the reasons and focus on what are we going to do about it—we are all part of the solution.”
Along with Superintendent Thurmond’s remarks, the webinar featured presentations by Executive Director of Attendance Works Hedy Chang, Assistant Superintendent at Long Beach Unified School District Dr. Erin Simon and Student Attendance and Engagement Coordinator in the Butte County Office of Education Sherri Hanni. Chang, Simon, and Hanni are also members of CDE’s State School Attendance Review Board.
“What we don’t need is a new initiative that is just focused on chronic absenteeism; but rather, what we most need is to take an integrated approach where we are using data on chronic absence to inform all these critical investments that are being laid out with universal pre-K, expanded learning, community schools, professional learning; these are all strategies that, when used and targeted well, they will really help making sure kids are showing up at school,” said Chang.
Thurmond is scheduling school visits around the state to volunteer directly with outreach efforts. The CDE has sent guidance to local educational agencies with resources and best practices to school districts on ways to counter chronic absenteeism. In addition, the second webinar in this series will be announced at a later date.
A full recording of the webinar is available on the CDE Facebook page. For more information on Thurmond’s and the CDE’s efforts to counter chronic absenteeism, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.