ERN DC Testimony on Chronic Absenteeism & Truancy

Washington, D.C.

December 13, 2023

Chronic Absenteeism & Truancy
Minetre Martin
Organizing Manager
Education Reform Now DC

Good morning Chairman Mendelson, Councilmembers, and staff of the Committee of the Whole. My name is Minetre Martin. I am a ward four resident, former teacher and literacy tutor, and an Organizing Manager for Education Reform Now DC. (“ERN DC”). ERN D.C. is a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system for all students. Today, I urge the DC Council to urgently address chronic absenteeism and truancy by doing the following:

  1. Expanding Home Visiting Services
  2. Strengthening Family and Community Engagement with Sustained Support for Everyday Labs Nudge Intervention
  3. Prioritizing Student Support: Stabilize School Health Funding and Expand Safe Passage
  4. Enhancing Oversight for Government Agencies

Chronic absenteeism in DC remains a pressing issue, with 43% of students chronically absent in the 2022-2023 school year – one of the highest rates in the country. This challenge disproportionately affects high school students, students designated as at-risk, and students of color.

So, how do we address chronic absenteeism and truancy? We need targeted actions that acknowledge the complexities of this issue:

1. Expand Home Visiting Services

Recently, when interviewed by NBC4 about missed school days in the first semester, a student casually remarked “Eight days is not a lot…”  However, we know that 10 or more excused or unexcused school days missed in a year is considered chronically absent, and truancy is 10 or more unexcused school days. This half-hearted remark reflects a much larger problem in the District of Columbia – a general lack of awareness among our community about the gravity of missing school. In a follow-up question about who talked to her about improving her attendance, she referenced her teacher, which highlights the impact of individual attention and relationship-building.

Drawing from my experience as a former teacher, I have seen firsthand how building rapport with students through home visits can significantly improve their attendance. When I was compensated for these visits, it allowed me to visit every student at home before school began and led to a well-maintained attendance rate of 95-98%, throughout my 5-year teaching career, a success that continued even during the transition to virtual learning. I wonder what impact we can make if we fully fund initiatives such as this.

DCPS’ initiative in 2021, where educators met over 3,000 families through home and community visits across 31 schools, was a commendable step. However, considering that DCPS served over 50,000 students in the 2021-2022 school year, this effort, while significant, touches only a fraction of the families. It highlights a gap that we must bridge to tackle chronic absenteeism across the district effectively.

However, we still need a comprehensive approach that includes but is not limited to funding home visit initiatives. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Strengthen Family and Community Engagement with Sustained Support for Everyday Labs Nudge Interventions

Nearly 16% of families who received ‘nudge’ text and mail communications about their students’ attendance record were no longer chronically absent, showing the power of personalized communication. However, while 58% of all students improved their attendance, the intervention is less likely to be effective for high school students. By continuing to invest and expand these data-driven tools, we can ensure robust oversight for accuracy of data collection and address gaps in chronic truancy.

3. Prioritize Student Support: Stabilize School School Based Behavioral Health Funding and Expand Safe Passage

With 10% of D.C. youth experiencing anxiety and depression, every school needs at least one clinician backed by stable funding. Additionally, expanding Safe Passage initiatives addresses safety concerns, as highlighted by a DCPS student, and is crucial for reducing absenteeism.

4. Enhance Oversight for Government Agencies

Finally, there is a need for better oversight of government agencies involved in student welfare, including understanding how local education agencies (LEAs) refer students to the Child Family Services Agency and Family Court Social Services Division. This oversight can ensure that LEAs are engaging in Student Support Team (SST)/Student Attendance Conferences (SAC) and are making timely and thorough referrals to CFSA and FCSSD and that these agencies are providing effective and efficient support services.

We have the knowledge, the data, and the community’s input. Now, we need decisive action to ensure every student in DC has the opportunity to succeed, starting with being present in school.

Thank you for your time and consideration.