• August 30, 2014 12:33 PM Research on Making Policy Reforms Work for Dual Language Learners

    If there’s any unifying thread in the story of the last several years of education debates, it’s that policy changes are education reform’s first, not final, steps. Given American education’s unwieldy, chaotic governing institutions, legal and regulatory changes are almost always susceptible to being watered down—or even reversed. For instance, while it seemed like a settled victory when the Common Core State Standards were adopted by 46 states, recent  implementation (and political) challenges have sapped that effort of much of its substance. Policy design and policy implementation require different skill sets (as does political mobilization). But they all matter, and the education policy community needs to think much harder about what  its proposals will look like in the classroom.

    Efforts to reform how U.S. schools educate dual language learners (DLLs) often run into this challenge. Many advocates concerned with DLLs’ linguistic and academic development have focused their attention on getting lawmakers to enshrine the importance of native language instruction for these students.

    New research, published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, spotlights the issue. The study explores a “two-way dual language” program in a first grade Texas classroom. This model enrolls DLLs and native English-speaking students together in a classroom where instruction is delivered both in English and in the DLLs’ home language. Ideally, the model supports bilingualism for both groups of students.

    How did it go? Authors Leah Durán and Deborah Palmer found that the program created a considerably different educational experience for students than models that instruct only in English. Dual language learners in the class expressed themselves in both Spanish and English—and found both languages celebrated by their peers and teachers.

    Two-way dual language programs enroll DLLs and native English-speaking students together in a classroom where instruction is delivered both in English and in the DLLs’ home language. Ideally, the model supports bilingualism for both groups of students.

    As is often the case, DLLs in the class frequently used “code-switching,” transitioning from English to Spanish (and back) in mid-sentence. Teachers welcomed this form of expression, which the authors cheered as proof that it “was a normalized and non-stigmatized classroom practice.” Indeed, teachers themselves swapped back and forth between languages in a conscious, intentional way, regardless of whether it was officially an “English Day” or “Spanish Day.” This squares with other research suggesting that young DLLs who code-switch are actually demonstrating critical growth in their language competencies. Native English-speaking students followed their teachers’ lead and expressed enthusiasm for DLLs’ home language; one admired a DLL peer as “a Spanish expert.”

    However, the researchers noted that the program was not quite fully balanced: “[A]t no point did we observe an English-dominant speaker initiate or respond in Spanish during the unstructured pair time.” In other words, while DLLs were being supported in both languages, English’s linguistic dominance (in the United States) was still creeping into the classroom. That is, it wasn’t clear that the program was living up to its “two-way” billing.

    As far as DLLs are concerned, this isn’t necessarily a problem. Except that the authors note that two-way dual language programs can upend traditional monolingual expectations in American schools for all students. If these programs are ineffective at supporting bilingualism for native English speakers, it robs them of one of the selling points that makes them “a popular and politically feasible alternative to transitional bilingual education.” If these programs do not live up to their two-way bilingual promise, it will be harder to keep them in place. Two-way language programs are sometimes an easier sell with the public because they purport to make bilingualism accessible to all students—not just DLLs.

    That is, even in this relatively faithful, high-quality implementation of the two-way dual language model, there are considerable areas for improvement (For instance, the authors suggested that teachers consider restructuring the day to make it more likely that native English speakers practice their Spanish). As hard as it can be to get states, districts, and schools to change policies around DLLs’ native language use, it’s even more challenging to make sure that these policies are implemented effectively. This research suggests that policy reforms are only one of several critical levers for supporting these students.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • August 29, 2014 03:01 PM Are “Affordable Elite” Colleges Growing in Size, or Just Selectivity?

    A new addition to this year’s Washington Monthly college guide is a ranking of “Affordable Elite” colleges. Given that many students and families (rightly or wrongly) focus on trying to get into the most selective colleges, we decided to create a special set of rankings covering only the 224 most highly-competitive colleges in the country (as defined by Barron’s). Colleges are assigned scores based on student loan default rates, graduation rates, graduation rate performance, the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, and the net price of attendance. UCLA, Harvard, and Williams made the top three, with four University of California campuses in the top ten.

    I received an interesting piece of criticism regarding the list by Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (and my dissertation chair in graduate school). Her critique noted that the size of the school and the type of admissions standards are missing from the rankings. She wrote:

    “Many schools are so tiny that they educate a teensy-weensy fraction of American undergraduates. So they accept 10 poor kids a year, and that’s 10% of their enrollment. Or maybe even 20%? So what? Why is that something we need to laud at the policy level?”

    While I don’t think that the size of the college should be a part of the rankings, it’s certainly worth highlighting the selective colleges that have expanded over time compared to those which have remained at the same size in spite of an ever-growing applicant pool.

    I used undergraduate enrollment data from the fall semesters of 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2012 from IPEDS for both the 224 colleges in the Affordable Elite list and 2,193 public and private nonprofit four-year colleges not on the list. I calculated the percentage change between each year and 2012 for the selective colleges on the Affordable Elite list and the other less-selective colleges to get an idea of whether selective colleges are curtailing enrollment.

    [UPDATE: The fall enrollment numbers include all undergraduates, including nondegree-seeking institutions. This doesn’t have a big impact on most colleges, but does at Harvard—where about 30% of total undergraduate enrollment is not seeking a degree. This means that enrollment growth may be overstated. Thanks to Ben Wildavsky for leading me to investigate this point.]

    The median Affordable Elite college enrolled 3,354 students in 2012, compared to 1,794 students at the median less-selective college. The percentage change at the median college between each year and 2012 is below:

    Period Affordable Elite Less selective
    2000-2012 10.9% 18.3%
    1990-2012 16.0% 26.3%
    1980-2012 19.9% 41.7%


    The distribution of growth rates is shown below:


    So, as a whole, less-selective colleges are growing at a more rapid pace than the ones on the Affordable Elite list. But do higher-ranked elite colleges grow faster? The scatterplot below suggests not really—with a correlation of -0.081 between rank and growth, suggesting that higher-ranked colleges grow at slightly slower rates than lower-ranked colleges.


    But some elite colleges have grown. The top ten colleges in the Affordable Elite list have the following growth rates:

          Change from year to 2012 (pct)
    Rank Name (* means public) 2012 enrollment 2000 1990 1980
    1 University of California-Los Angeles (CA)* 27941 11.7 15.5 28.0
    2 Harvard University (MA) 10564 6.9 1.7 62.3
    3 Williams College (MA) 2070 2.5 3.2 6.3
    4 Dartmouth College (NH) 4193 3.4 11.1 16.8
    5 Vassar College (NY) 2406 0.3 -1.8 1.9
    6 University of California-Berkeley (CA)* 25774 13.7 20.1 21.9
    7 University of California-Irvine (CA)* 22216 36.9 64.6 191.6
    8 University of California-San Diego (CA)* 22676 37.5 57.9 152.5
    9 Hanover College (IN) 1123 -1.7 4.5 11.0
    10 Amherst College (MA) 1817 7.2 13.7 15.8


    Some elite colleges have not grown since 1980, including the University of Pennsylvania, MIT, Boston College, and the University of Minnesota. Public colleges have generally grown slightly faster than private colleges (the UC colleges are a prime example), but there is substantial variation in their growth.

    [Kelchen on Education]

  • August 29, 2014 03:00 PM The Misguided #PayMyTuition Challenge

    In a sort-of piggy back on the famous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge going on now, many college students are working on a challenge of their own. It’s called the #PayMyTuition challenge. According to a piece at Inside Higher Ed:

    Students… have taken to Twitter… [and] challenging various celebrities to help finance their higher education. There are lots of requests to the usual suspects — President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, etc. Also there have been some notable responses. At Austin Peay State University, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, responded by noting that ROTC does in fact pay tuition. (Of course ROTC requires a much more serious commitment than dumping a bucket of ice on one’s head or tweeting.)Blackboard responded with a contest inviting students to explain how they will use their education to make the world a better place. First place is a $15,000 scholarship.

    It doesn’t seem anyone has responded to this by actually, well, paying someone else’s tuition (And Obama, at any rate, could only pay for a few people).

    But there’s a better way to do this. As the University of California system’s Janet Napolitano put it in this publican recently:

    Public universities and colleges… are the defining institutions for the states they serve. So it is troubling to consider that at some point in the last six years, 41 state legislatures in the United States slashed funding for their public universities and colleges.


    Sadly, funding remains constrained for public higher education, despite an economy that slowly grows more robust. Only 14 states have re-invested in higher education at levels equal to or above their pre-recession levels. Last year, 20 states actually cut more funding from their public universities and colleges. UC today enrolls more than 6,000 California resident undergraduates for whom it has never received state dollars.
    When states under-invest in public higher education, bad things happen. Tuition goes up. Student debt goes up. And the public begins to think that higher education is a private luxury, not a public necessity.

    Public universities educate about 75 percent of all American college students. This is the reason why tuition in American higher education is so high; because we’re not funding public colleges the way we used to.

    Funding our nation’s public universities and colleges is a matter of priorities, leadership, and knowing the difference between a cost and an investment. It is a fiscal challenge for some, and a moral challenge for all. These are public goods that work for the public good; they deserve the stewardship that public goods demand, and that the young people of this country deserve. We must not let the American Dream die with the Baby Boomers. We must, instead, preserve the institutions that have made that dream come true… generation after generation.

    This might be a better way to go about addressing the college cost problem. Not challenging rich people to pay individual tuition, but challenging state legislators and governors to do their jobs and provide affordable higher education to all Americans.

    That would surely matter more than asking Oprah Winfrey to send a check.

  • August 29, 2014 01:10 PM Transfer Students Are Losing Time and Money

    As I explained over on The Hill today, a new report from the Department of Education confirms that nearly 40 percent of students who transferred colleges at least once lost all of the credits they’d earned in the process. That’s a significant issue, given that almost a third of college students transfer schools at least once after enrolling. I wrote,

    For state and federal policymakers, those lost transfer credits translate into lower college attainment rates–and  wasted taxpayer dollars, if those students who lose credits during a transfer paid for the credits with Pell or other state grants, student loans, or other federal and state aid. 

    Click here to read the full post on The Hill.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • August 29, 2014 10:12 AM Going to a For-Profit College Doesn’t Help at All When Looking for Job

    I’m sure most people have seen this advertisement by now . I’m talking about Red Socks, the really rather charming commercial featuring a man going about his day before ending with his big job interview

    While red socks are in general not quite appropriate job interview attire, we can forget about that for a minute. The marketing campaign suggests Phoenix graduates have entered some sort of exclusive fraternity that helps them get the job because now they’re in this select group. He’s in, because he went to the University of Phoenix, just the guy doing the hiring!

    It doesn’t work like that at all.

    This probably shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise at this point but it turns out when trying to get a job, it doesn’t really help much at all to go to a for-profit college.

    According to an article by Alan Pyke at Think Progress:

    The people lured in by that marketing end up deeper in debt than community college students but fare no better with hiring managers, according to a new study. In fact, for-profit graduates don’t even gain a job hunting advantage over applicants with no college experience at all.
    The study results are based on a simple experiment that the authors believe is the first of its kind performed on for-profit schools. Researchers sent nearly 9,000 fake resumes in response to job postings in six different categories of work and compared the response rates their fake applicants got to see if a for-profit college degree would be worth more in the job market than an equivalent community college certification. Some of the fictional resumes listed no education beyond high school in order to evaluate the claim from for-profit supporters that the industry “draws some students into postsecondary schooling who otherwise would not have attended college at all” and should therefore be viewed as a useful bridge to economic mobility.

    What researchers found was that the for-profit degree didn’t help at all relative to a community college degree. “For-profit resumes got a response 11.3 percent of the time and an interview request 4.7 percent of the time, compared to 11.6 percent and 5.3 percent respectively for community college degrees.”

    This isn’t that surprising. But what’s really interesting is this: According to Pyke:

    “We also find little evidence of a benefit to listing a for-profit college relative to no college at all,” the authors write. That means that someone who spent $35,000 on a two-year associates degree — the average cost for-profit schools charge — has the same odds of getting a call back from a job they wanted as someone who spent zero dollars on college.

    They might as well just have skipped the whole thing altogether.

    Read more about the study here.

    It does stand to reason that the red-socked applicant might do rather well in the hiring process if the person making the decision also went to the same school he did (no matter which one it was). But the reality is that someone who went to a for-profit college probably wouldn’t be called in for an interview at all. And the person making a hiring decision for a good professional job almost certainly wouldn’t have gone to a for-profit college.

  • August 29, 2014 08:45 AM More Research On Precisely What Works for English Language Learners

    As I’ve pointed out in recent posts, there are considerable limits to what education research can do on its own—because of political realities and implementation challenges. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should stop researching education, or that we should ignore existing research findings. It just means that we should: 1) be mindful of the limits of what research can do for politics and policy, and 2) even the best research usually has limited prescriptions for policy reforms.

    That said, this second element isn’t just a cautionary limit—it’s also a call for more refined research. If we know, to use an example from my post earlier this week, that access to a particular high-quality public pre-K program is particularly beneficial for dual language learners, the next step is to figure out the specific characteristics that make it work.

    Cue new research from one of the regional labs in the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences: “The Correlates of Academic Performance for English Language Learner Students in a New England District.” While it’s not directed specifically at early education, the study does offer analysis of how well various language support programs support ELLs’ academic performance.

    The Northeast may not be traditionally thought of as a region with a large population of English Language Learners, but the report opens by noting that their numbers rose 7.6 percent from 2001 to 2010, even as the overall student population decreased 3.5 percent. As demographer Dowell Myers noted at a New America event last summer, these trends suggest a host of problems for employers and public officials. Fewer children overall mean fewer workers (read: taxpayers) in the future. With an imminent surge in retirees on the horizon, Americans need to invest in all children as critical resources. This isn’t a choice between competing generational priorities, Myers said, “Seniors need this to happen.”

    The report explores how “a large, urban Connecticut district is educating ELL students—and checks for correlation between particular language support models (such as English as a Second Language, transitional bilingual programs, and others) and student achievement. Because of the structure of the study, they made no causal claims, but found a variety of interesting correlations.

    For instance, the various language support models in use had effects that varied by grade span. The researchers first explored how these various models might be linked to performance on Connecticut’s English proficiency assessment (the exam used to measure whether ELLs are ready to exit language services). Dual language bilingual education programs “was associated with higher English proficiency scores than the average” for ELLs in K–1st grade and 6th–8th grade. Meanwhile, ELLs in transitional bilingual education or English as a Second Language programs underperformed the average English proficiency scores to varying degrees at nearly all grade spans (K–8th grade). ELLs whose parents refused language support services performed above the average for English proficiency scores at all grade levels except 6th–8th grade.

    They also considered other metrics—ELLs’ performance on Connecticut’s English Language Arts and Math assessments. Unfortunately, they found very little by way of statistically-significant patterns. ELL students’ English proficiency scores were the best predictor of their performance on these content assessments.

    At one level, this is a relatively unsurprising finding: we’ve long known that ELLs’ English proficiency levels can impede their abilities to fully demonstrate what they know on content assessments. That core insight is why states (and the federal government) have developed testing accommodations for these students.

    But when it comes to the question of determining which programs best support these students’ academic success, this research offers little guidance. Which is challenging, yes, but also a useful support for the research caution I’ve been recommending in previous posts. There are other—excellent—studies that do speak directly to that question, but we’re a long way from firm answers.

    However, this shouldn’t be cause for paralysis. We should absolutely invest more heavily to support ELLs’ success, given that we currently allocate fewer educational resources to these students than we did ten years ago (and it’s far from clear that that original baseline was sufficient). That’s a matter of basic justice that doesn’t require research certainty.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • August 28, 2014 12:00 PM Today’s College Freshmen Were Born in 1996, and Other Unsettling Facts

    Today in Things That Make You Feel Old, Beloit College this week released its annual “mindset list” of who today’s college freshmen are and what their perception of the world is. The list has come out every year since 1998.

    This year most of the freshmen were born in 1996. For them:

    1. Tupac Shakur, JonBenet Ramsey, and Carl Sagan have always been dead.
    2. Their first weeks of kindergarten were interrupted by the World Trade Center explosions of September 11th.
    3. Hard liquor has always been advertised on television (along with prescription drugs).
    4. Hong Kong has always been part of China.
    5. They can’t blame Joe Camel for introducing them to smoking.
    6. They could always, basically, watch TV on the Internet. Also there has always been the Internet.
    7. George Stephanopoulos is a short, middle-aged TV journalist, not a short young senior White House staffer.
    8. Presidents never win in landslides.
    9. They didn’t have to hide porn under their beds (though they did have to deal with the rather more awkward “browser history” problem).
    10. What the hell is Netscape?

    Read the full list here.

  • August 28, 2014 10:29 AM What Makes Charter Schools Work?

    As politically polarizing as charter schools can be, doubts about their efficacy are being steadily put to rest. There’s increasing evidence that they can drive impressive academic gains for students—especially in the presence of strong accountability regulations. But because of the polarized politics surrounding them, charter schools are often misrepresented and misunderstood. So I’ve written a piece for The Daily Beast about what makes charters distinct—and how that can help them succeed:

    There’s a clear theory of action here, and it responds to a pretty incontrovertible diagnosis: American public education is chaotic. Our schools operate in an extraordinarily dense, disorganized regulatory environment. They work within district, state, and federal systems that prescribe various programs and data reporting, all of which are often at cross purposes. Some funding streams run directly from the Feds to local districts. Others run through states on their way to classrooms. At its best, the education “system” is about as organized as a pinball machine.

    [Meanwhile,] charter administrators can hire the teachers they want—they’re not assigned personnel from the district, or forced to choose from a pool. They can dismiss ineffective instructors quickly if necessary. If their students need lots of remedial instruction, the school can extend the school day, the school week, or the school year. If the curricula seem to focus on skills that students have already mastered, they can scrap it in favor of other materials. And then, if the school’s model works, it can be expanded; if it doesn’t, the school can be shut down relatively rapidly.

    Click here to read the rest!

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • August 26, 2014 05:23 PM I’d Rather Black, Superhuman Student-Athletes Just Be Human

    What happens when prep athletes take off their uniforms?

    The same black males who are beloved heroes on schools’ playing fields can be treated as violent trespassers off of them. Between being a celebrated superhero and a profligate thug, black students just need to be seen - as human.

    Last week, Jackie Robinson West became the first all black Little League team to win the American title and to advance to Little League World Series. My heart raced like my sons played on Jackie Robinson West or faster than a Mo’ne Davis’ fastball. Davis, 13, also starred in the same tournament and had me wanting to #throwlikeagirl. As a former prep and collegiate athlete, I know the personal as well as community fantasies and joy athletics generate. Likewise, I cheered excessively for Jackie Robinson West and Mo’ne.

    Members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago, Ill., ride in the Little League Grand Slam Parade as it makes its way through downtown Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. The Little League World Series tournament begins Thursday, August 14, in South Williamsport, Pa.. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

    Members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago, Ill., ride in the Little League Grand Slam Parade as it makes its way through downtown Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. The Little League World Series tournament begins Thursday, August 14, in South Williamsport, Pa.. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

    My plaudits may have been symptoms of my need to exhale from the previous two weeks of depressing Ferguson, Missouri coverage. My raucous applause may have expressed society’s unhealthy exalting of black athletes in sports. In a more optimistic light, I might have cheered for real amateur athletics and the incredible stories they almost always produce.

    However, I’ve come to believe that my jubilation for those particular young baseball players expresses a deeper need for validation. I rooted because I want black lives to matter. I need some recognition of my and my peers’ humanity. But I know that I shouldn’t look for this type of validation from sports - especially prep or collegiate athletics. The reality is my sons can very easily be adored for his play on an athletic team and be preyed upon during his way home. Away from an athletic fields, kids apparently lose their cuteness.

    Click to read more Andre Perry.

    I’d rather not have the fear of my sons being killed by police than have some glory with being sports stars. I’d rather they be valued citizens than superheroes.

    The killing of Michael Brown has prompted a national conversation on policing in America, but it’s not just the police that have negative attitudes of blacks. We should ask: Who are police protecting? Police exercise public will. Certainly, police officers are part of the public, but they also serve the will of those deemed worthy of protection. I felt good about the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson West and Mo’ne, but being an athlete won’t necessarily make them citizens of value.

    Athletic accomplishment probably inflates a sense of belonging. Being a sports hero makes you superhuman - not human. Race matters. Superman transformed into Clark Kent. When a black student athlete removes his uniform, he becomes Black Man. At best an athletic uniform provides a temporary visa contingent on athletic ability and utility.

    What happens to black lives when the uniforms are off is what really matters. The boys of Jackie Robinson West will eventually remove their uniforms and walk the streets of Chicago. They’ll eventually drive and shop. Don’t have the baseball players of Jackie Robinson West make sophomoric mistakes of stealing, fighting, selling drugs or going to get snacks, which for many provide justification for fatal force. Mo’ne will grow up and look for the same opportunities as her male counterparts. She may ask for help like Renisha McBride. In other words, don’t let these sports heroes become human.

    The accolades for Jackie Robinson West and Mo’ne Davis don’t offer metaphors or evidence for how most Americans view black children. ESPN writer Melissa Isaacson penned Mo’ne Davis’ Impact Reverberates Far Past Williamsport. No, America is comfortable cheering black athletes. Black brilliance on the athletic fields is nothing new, and we should all act as if it happens every day because it does. In the midst of historic cheers for black athleticism, we’ve built policies that have led to the disproportionate jailing, killing and expelling of black people.

    And people of color have come to hail any brilliance that rises through the tilted odds of discrimination, prejudiced policing, under-resourced schools and biased laws. People of color have an extreme willingness to celebrate victories yet have a deep humility to know we’re problems. This oscillation enrages, yet it instills temerity to take a stand.

    The students of Jackie Robinson West are simply amazing. However, I just want students to have the freedom to be human.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • August 26, 2014 05:18 PM Lessons from Hawaii: Tracking the Right Data to Fix Absenteeism

    Good school attendance is associated with all sorts of good educational outcomes, especially higher grades and higher test scores. It’s obvious: if you’re not showing up for school, you’re not going to learn as much. But only 17 states track and report chronic absenteeism data, according to the Data Quality Campaign and Attendance Works, a non-profit organization that advocates for more focus on absenteeism data and ideas for getting students to come to school.

    “People aren’t tracking the right data now. They’re paying attention to average daily attendance and truancy, but not the kids who are at academic risk,” said Phyllis Jordan, a spokeswoman for Attendance Works. Truancy is generally defined as unexcused absences, but many chronically absent children don’t get captured in the truancy data because they had a reason for missing school or a parent-signed slip excusing their absence.

    A recent presentation by a state education official from Hawaii, one of the 17 states that does track chronic absenteeism, showed just how misleading it is to focus on average daily attendance rates. Dave Moyer, speaking at the 2014 National Center for Education Statistics data conference on July 31, 2014, found that even at Hawaiian public schools where 95 percent of the students show up every day, chronic absenteeism can be a gigantic problem where as many as one in four kids  – 25 percent — are missing 15 or more school days a year. Hawaii schools boast of 95 percent daily attendance rates. But when Moyer first drilled down into the data, he found that more than one in five students throughout the state were chronically absent.

    It’s worth pausing a moment to understand how these seemingly opposing statistics  – high daily attendance and high chronic absenteeism — can coexist. Imagine a school with 100 students and a 95 percent daily attendance rate. On day one, 95 of them show up and five play hooky. Then imagine that the same five students play hooky 15 days in a row. Already, you have 5 percent chronic absenteeism just 15 days into the school year. Now pretend those truant children decide to mend their ways and attend school again. And grab a new group of five kids (from the 95 that had been attending every day) to skip school. Again, you still have a 95 percent attendance rate. But if this second group of 5 skips school for 15 days, then you’d have a total of 10 kids, or 10%, of the student body that would be considered chronically absent. That’s after only 30 days. You could theoretically get to 20% chronic absenteeism just 60 days into the school year.

    In other words, it’s a small group of, say, 20 students who are frequently missing school. Maybe only five of them miss school on any particular day. Most of the remaining 80 percent have fairly stellar attendance records. And the school can still boast of a 95 percent attendance rate overall.

    Since too few states track it, it’s hard to say if Hawaii’s absenteeism problem is worse than, better than or about the same as the national average. Even the states that track absenteeism have different definitions for what it means to be chronically absent. Hawaii’s threshold of 15 days is believed to be one of the lowest in the nation. Most other states or districts wait until 18 days, or until 10 percent of the 180-day school year is missed, before labeling a student “chronically absent.” A 2012 Johns Hopkins study estimated that 10 to 15 percent of students in the U.S. are chronically absent each year.

    Solving absenteeism is another matter. “I don’t know how to fix the problem,” Moyer said. Moyer found that the reasons that kids don’t show up for school are many and varied. Some students suffer from asthma and have trouble coming to school on what Hawaiians call “voggy” days, when volcanic particles are thick in the air. On the big island of Hawaii, a two-mile hike down a steep mountain to the bus stop can be too arduous in bad weather. Bullied kids can be too scared to go to school. Others simply cut school to go to the beach.

    Race and ethnicity seem to be a factor, too. Native Hawaiian, Micronesian and Samoan students were disproportionately represented among the chronically absent population.

    But Hawaii has had some success in lowering chronic absenteeism statewide from 21.8 percent to 19.7 percent over the last few years, after making principals accountable for it. Five percent of an elementary’s school performance rating is now based on its chronic absenteeism rate. One community noticed that students were hanging out at the Seven-Eleven instead of showing up for school on time, so they persuaded the convenience store to shut down at 7:30 in the morning. “One Seven-Eleven closing had a big effect,” said Moyer. “The best solutions are local.”

    So which days of the year are students least likely to cut school? Moyer counted attendance on every day of the school year and found two of the highest attendance rates on Halloween and Valentine’s Day. “Really, the takeaway here is that candy drives attendance,” Moyer jokingly concluded.

    Source: NCES STATS-DC Dave Moyer presentation on Chronic Absenteeism in Hawaii

    Source: NCES STATS-DC Dave Moyer presentation on Chronic Absenteeism in Hawaii

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Recent Blog Posts