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Report: Positive Messaging Helps Reduce Chronic Student Absence

Nearly 3-in-4 school districts in North Carolina reported between 5% and 15% of their elementary-school students as chronically absent during the 2015-2016 school year. (Adobe Stock).
Nearly 3-in-4 school districts in North Carolina reported between 5% and 15% of their elementary-school students as chronically absent during the 2015-2016 school year. (Adobe Stock).
September 10, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. — A new survey of more than 1,500 preschool, Head Start, and elementary-school staff and parents finds North Carolina school districts could be doing more to help their students get to school every day. Nearly 1-in-8 young children misses more than 15 days of school every year, and research shows that's enough to impact learning, according to the report by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation.

Lisa Finaldi is the foundation's community engagement leader. She said the reasons some children are prone to being absent are complex.

"It ranges from anything to you missed the bus and your family doesn't have a car; you could be food insecure; bullying is a problem for some students; health issues that don't go detected, and a child continues to be ill,” Finaldi said. "So it really is wide-ranging."

Chronic absence is defined as missing 10% or more of the days in given school year. As part of Attendance Awareness Month this September, the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation has developed a toolkit to help communities decrease barriers to regular attendance.

Studies have found chronic absence in kindergarten is linked to lower reading proficiency in first grade. Finaldi pointed out that young children who are chronically absent are more likely to miss school days when they are older, and tend to perform less well academically in middle and high school.

"What we find is that children who aren't attending regularly really do have a deficit in terms of learning,” she said.

Mandy Ableidinger is policy and practice leader at the foundation. She said it's time to move away from a law-and-order approach to school attendance.

"There was a time when all the district would do was send a letter to the family, threatening them when the child had missed a certain number of days,” Ableidinger said. “And the research is really showing us that doesn't work."

Ableidinger pointed out that to reduce chronic absence, positive engagement with families is key. She said educators, administrators and community organizations should be working closely with families to really understand the barriers they face when it comes to getting their children to school on time every day, and then work to address those barriers.

Disclosure: North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, Women's Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC