fb-pixelIn Providence, prioritizing school attendance as a tool for success Skip to main content
COMMENTARY

In Providence, let’s prioritize school attendance and recognize it as a valuable tool for success

Good attendance isn’t just a rule to follow, it’s a path to a brighter future for our district, write Rhode Island’s education commissioner and the Providence Teachers Union president

Christopher Furlong/Photographer: Christopher Furlon

Bueller?

The main character in the classic teen comedy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” famously fakes an illness to skip school and embarks on a whirlwind adventure through Chicago with his friends. While his absence makes for an entertaining and memorable movie, it also serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of poor attendance.

Ferris Bueller logged at least nine absences in one semester. Nine. Let’s face it: if that high school senior was a student in Rhode Island in the present day, he would be considered well on track to becoming chronically absent, or missing 10 percent of the school year. At his rate of absences, in just a few months, he would miss close to a month of school days. The learning gap would be devastating.

Advertisement



School absences add up quickly and can have serious consequences. When a student is chronically absent, which includes excused absences, they’re likely to fall behind and may jeopardize their promotion. Missed school days can create gaps in understanding, making it challenging for students to keep up with their peers and achieve their goals. High levels of chronic absenteeism can also have a ripple effect throughout the classroom, hampering a teacher’s ability to engage all students and meet their learning needs. For real Rhode Island children, catching up on their education isn’t always possible like it may have been for the well-off fictional character, Ferris Bueller.

In the Providence Public School District, nearly half of students were chronically absent during the 2022-2023 school year. While that is a nearly 10 percent improvement over the previous school year, this remains an alarming statistic. Attendance matters. If kids are not in school, they can’t learn.

How do we move the needle? In Providence, where 82 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged and were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, this is a collaborative, all-hands-on-deck effort. This past summer, the attendance team, in collaboration with the Family and Community Engagement Office, more than doubled their 2021 outreach to families of chronically absent students through more house visits and calls. The district hired a director of attendance, 37 behavior interventionists, and 31 social workers to offer additional support to students and families. The district also developed a new, restorative attendance policy and distributed Attendance Hero packets to every student featuring an attendance pledge for families to sign, as well as an attendance calendar tracker magnet. As Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast,” and daily reminders and encouragement matter if we are truly going to change what’s been described as a global “cultural shift” in attitudes towards missing school.

Advertisement



At the school level, Providence administrators and educators are committed to increasing positive teacher-student relationships, and taking steps to improve culture and climate. Evidence suggests that when students feel a sense of belonging in their school communities, they are more likely to engage and attend regularly. In partnership with the Providence Teachers Union, the Providence Public School District is the only one in the state that invested federal relief funds to extend the school day by 30 minutes every day, which accounts for nearly 15 additional learning days. This commitment to extended learning is a bold and tangible step toward academic recovery, and further proof of the Providence education community’s dedication to the success of our students.

Advertisement



The American Federation of Teachers has long spoken about the negative impact of chronic absenteeism, from health disparities, to impact on academic success, and the increased risk of dropping out. We agree, and the evidence supports this as well. Together, we are focused on turning the tide in Providence. From teachers calling home to check on students, to grade-level teams serving coffee at the curb, to principals raffling off prizes for students who are showing up daily, we are all in for our kids being in school, every day.

Let’s prioritize good attendance and recognize it as a valuable tool for success. Learn about absenteeism in your neighborhood using the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Community Education Dashboard. Explore disaggregated data on the Historical Absence Rate and Absenteeism Dashboard. Keep up with the daily Attendance Leaderboard. Be an Attendance Hero and help us spread the word that each day matters. Good attendance isn’t just a rule to follow, it’s a path to a brighter future for our district.

Angélica Infante-Green is the Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. Maribeth Calabro is president of the Providence Teachers Union.