The second largest school district in the country is facing a common but pernicious problem: student absenteeism. In Los Angeles Unified School District, 14 percent of the more than 500,000 students miss more than 15 days of school a year, and another 18 percent miss between 8 and 14 days. This lost instruction is obviously detrimental to student outcomes. But additionally, absent students cost the district money, as state revenue is based on average daily attendance. If LAUSD had hit last year’s attendance target, they would have received $20 million more in revenue.
A new report, which is based on ERS's analysis, offers a suite of cost-effective and targeted strategies to address this problem. This fall, the LA Unified Advisory Task Force—a group of business, education, and civic leaders—tapped ERS to analyze data, research promising practices and make recommendations. Our team worked with the district attendance team to analyze LASUD's student attendance trends, identified strengths and opportunities in the district's current strategies, and reviewed promising practices from targeted districts around the nation, including New York City, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Long Beach.
The findings revealed important aspects of the attendance problem in LA:
ERS then presented a series of recommended actions, based on promising practices from other districts. These were incorporated into the Task Force's report, which was presented to the school board and the superintendent on December 5:
The district has already begun to test out some of these ideas in pilot programs at targeted schools and plans to expand this work as early as this spring. The district plans to closely monitor what works and what doesn't and take steps to scale successful programs the following year with state support. Currently, LAUSD spends about $40 million on efforts to get more students to class. The Task Force recommended re-evaluating that investment as well, to identify ways that current practices can be improved.
In the grand scheme of reforming educational systems, student attendance is a relatively straight-forward issue. Though students’ reasons for missing class are complex, the outcome measure is clear. And yet, it represents an excellent place for school systems to make an impact on both student achievement and district finances. If each child in LAUSD attended just one more day of school, he or she might get the introduction to a new novel the class will read for the next six weeks; or will experience the lab on kinetic energy that will open up a field of science. Moreover, LAUSD would receive an additional $30 million dollars, which could be invested in many impactful ways. LAUSD is demonstrating how partnership with an outside Task Force of civic-minded leaders, combined with good research and a commitment to pilot, monitor, and scale, could reap truly meaningful benefits.
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