Absenteeism high in D.C. Head Start Programs

More than 25 percent of students who were enrolled at D.C.’s Public Schools Head Start programs were chronically absent last year, according to reports released this week by the Urban Institute. This means that students missed at least 10 percent of school days — the equivalent of at least a month.

The study looks at the city’s traditional public school Head Start programs, which enroll over 5,000 preschool-age students. This is about 40 percent of all children enrolled in the city’s publicly funded preschool programs for three- and four-year-olds. The study counted excused and unexcused absences on the premise that any time away from the classroom negatively impacts the child’s ability to learn.

School attendance is not enforced until kindergarten in the District, but school officials hope to make the most of the city’s investment in universal preschool. D.C. plans to increase efforts to ensure that children attend and are better prepared to start kindergarten with regular attendance.

Deborah Paratore, director of Head Start program operations for D.C. Public Schools said, “We are trying to get the message out that Pre-K is not child care. It’s a place where habits are formed, where children are going to school.”

Homeless children, children enrolled in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and African American children had the highest rates of absenteeism.

Just 44 percent of the school system’s Head Start students missed less than 5 percent of the school year. Seven percent of the students missed 20 percent or more of enrolled days.

The U.S. recognizes the K-12 attendance issue and has made it a priority to address. I am glad to see that D.C. is honing in on good attendance during the preschool years, too. The report credited increased family engagement for driving attendance, and I agree. Parents have to prioritize attendance, even at a young age.

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