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The Dangers of Chronic Absenteeism

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If students are not in school, they are not learning. That is the main issue behind chronic absenteeism, which has serious implications for student success. Students that are chronically absent are at a higher risk of failing academically or dropping out.


What it is

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of instructional time within one academic year. Chronic absenteeism is not the same as truancy (three days of unexcused absence) or average daily attendance (ADA). ADA can actually mask chronic absence, since it only tells how many students show up to class every day.

  • Currently, Delaware does not measure chronic absenteeism. Delaware only measures ADA and truancy. Delaware code defines truancy as when a student has been absent without a valid excuse for more than three days. Schools are required to notify parents if a student has more than 10 unexcused absences.
  • According to this Everyone Graduates Report, the nation’s rate of chronic absence may range from 10 to 15 percent—numbers not being captured on the state level. By failing to measure and report chronic absence rates, we fail to truly understand the depth of the issue in Delaware.


Who it affects

Chronic absenteeism affects all students. However, it can have especially dire consequences at key times in student’s life, and tends to disproportionately affect disadvantaged students.

  • Kindergarten and first grade students often have absentee rates that rival those in high school. That matters because a child who can read on grade level by third grade is far more likely to graduate than one who does not.
  • Low-income students are four times more likely to be chronically absent, according to Attendance Works, a nationwide initiative promoting better policies around school attendance.
  • There are many reasons students are missing school, including health issues, work and financial responsibility, lack of transportation, unsafe school conditions, and homelessness.


What we can do

Take action by advocating for chronic absenteeism to be a metric in the Every Student Success Act. Measuring chronic absence is the first round of defense. As Delaware continues to form it state plan, make sure your voice is heard. Visit the Delaware Department of Education’s ESSA Stakeholder Engagement page to advocate.

Build a culture of school attendance. Communities, schools, and families need to work together to ensure that all students are getting to and staying in school by addressing the bigger social issues that hinder attendance.

  • Prioritize student health needs by providing comprehensive school health services. Check out this brief on the connection between health and chronic absence.
  • Ensure student safety and engagement through social and emotional learning. Check out this Digging Deeper blog for more on what Delaware students are saying about school safety and engagement.
  • Early childhood educators can help using parent engagement techniques and offering support for at-risk families. Check out this brief from Attendance Works to see how early childhood educators can act.

Digging Deeper: Are Delaware Students Safe and Engaged?

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Digging Deeper
“Digging Deeper” is a recurring feature at the Rodel blog where we take some data on Delaware public schools—and put it under the microscope. In the spirit of our Public Education at a Glance, we’ll present a straightforward look at the numbers, and search for some deeper meaning.


Academic achievement is but one aspect of student success. To develop the “whole child” we must also nurture a student’s social and emotional skills. Research shows that a positive school climate impacts both academic achievement and the development of social and emotional skills. As recent concerns about school safety intensify, a stronger focus on school climate could help ensure that students remain safe and engaged.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) six out of 10 Delaware children meet the Promoting School Success Index. This index measures student engagement, participation in extracurricular activities, and feeling safe at school. The survey provides data on various aspects of a child’s life, from physical and mental wellness, to neighborhood, school, and social contexts.

Eight out of 10 of eighth graders reported feeling safe in school in 2016. Still, almost half of students in eighth grade feel that violence is a problem at their school, according to the Delaware School Survey. The same pattern can be seen in fifth and 11th grade.

Research shows a correlation between student engagement in school and student achievement. Student engagement, often defined as students actively participating in learning, focusing attention to the topic at hand and staying on task. When students remain engaged, they learn better and perform better.

A positive school climate—one where students feel safe and cared for—influences not only academic performance, but behavioral outcomes and emotional health, according to the National School Climate Center. In fact, supporting positive school climate can be a preventative method for violence, bullying, and distraction.

Some solutions: Prioritizing Student Engagement and Safety

While the majority of Delaware students report feeling safe and engaged, it’s fair to ask: Is that enough? Student Success 2025 has a goal for all students to feel safe in school, and aims to raise the number of students that are consistently engaged in school to 95 percent. Thankfully we have some possible solutions to consider.

  • Using a personalized learning model, each student is met where they are academically while student agency and ownership is leveraged to increase engagement. To learn what personalized learning looks like in a Montessori classroom, read “Liberty within Limits: Personalized Learning in the Montessori Classroom” by Rodel Teacher Council member Cheryl Lynn Jones.
  • Delaware Pathways, a program designed to prepare public school students for the workforce, offers more real-life experiences and connections for students to remain on track for success. When students know that that success after high school is within reach, they are more likely to remain engaged in school.
  • Social and Emotional Learning, or the process through which students are taught positive relationship building, positive self-image, responsible decision-making, and other useful skills, is just one way that schools can create a supportive school environment and keeps students engaged. Check out this blog for more background on social and emotional learning—and to see what is already happening in Delaware.

Digging Deeper: Does Teacher Diversity Matter?

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“Digging Deeper” is a recurring feature at the Rodel blog where we take some data on Delaware public schools—and put it under the microscope. In the spirit of our Public Education at a Glance, we’ll present a straightforward look at the numbers, and search for some deeper meaning.

Kuumba classroom

There is a growing body of research suggesting that a more diverse teacher workforce increases student wellbeing and academic success. However, in Delaware—and the nation—the teacher workforce is far less racially diverse than the student populations they serve.


Here we’ll explore:

  • What does research say about the benefits of teacher diversity?
  • What is the current state of educator diversity in Delaware?
  • Who is taking action?


(Note: For the purposes of this “Digging Deeper” analysis, we will focus specifically on teacher student and racial demographics—one of the few comparative attributes we can measure with publicly available data.)


What Does Research Say about the Benefits of Teacher Diversity?


A more diverse teacher workforce could help narrow the achievement gap. According to research evidence, placing students with teachers of the same ethnicity/race could have implications for closing the achievement gap:


Increasing access to high-level coursework: Research from the University of Colorado examining the Impact of Black Teacher Role Models on Rigorous Math Taking showed that black math teachers had a positive impact on the likelihood of a student enrolling in advanced math courses.


There are social and emotional advantages to having teacher diversity. According to the Brookings Institute, some of the social and emotional benefits include:

  • Higher expectations of students of color from teachers. A Harvard University study examined teacher bias and expectations as a self-fulfilling prophecy and found that teacher expectations on student behavior can be powerful influencers for student performance and aspirations. This could have positive implications for gifted and talented programs, where students of color are grossly underrepresented.
  • Teachers serving as advocates for students. Studies have shown that teachers of color serves as advocates and mentors for students of color by helping them navigate school culture.


What is the Current State of Educator Diversity In Delaware?

Delaware teachers and principals are less diverse than the students they serve. According to the Delaware Department of Education data, students of color represent more than half of Delaware’s student population while teachers of color comprise only about 14 percent of the teacher workforce. These gaps are also evident at the district level.

Who is taking action?

Diversifying Delaware’s educator workforce could positively impact student success. There is a growing body of research indicating that teacher diversity can have a positive impact on students’ academic achievement and social and emotional learning. Furthermore, action is underway to make Delaware’s—and the nation’s—teacher workforce more diverse.


  • Preparing more diverse teachers – The Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) and Delaware teacher preparation programs are working to increase the diversity of aspiring teachers. Diversity is a component of the new Teacher Prep Program Scorecards. Teacher prep programs are being scored on their efforts to recruit a more diverse student body. This year, the top three programs with the most diversity were Teach For America, Delaware Transitions to Teaching Partnership, and Alternative Routes to Certification. Each program’s proportion of non-white candidates was above 30 percent, while the state average is only 21 percent.


  • Delaware specific research and analysis – DDOE’s Delaware Talent Practices Report analyzes educator recruitment, hiring, and retention methods in Delaware schools. It also offers some best practices for recruitment of diverse teachers. The report advocates for districts to differentiate their strategies in recruiting diverse teacher candidates, and highlights best practices.



  • At the national level, teacher diversity has been addressed by the U.S. Department of Education through a series of programs and reports—the latest of which is highlighted here. The National Teacher Summit on Teacher Diversity was held in spring 2016, focusing on how to fill the teacher pipeline with more racially/ethnically diverse candidates. The summit also marked the release of The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce report, which highlights the lack of diversity in schools, makes the case for the benefits of a diverse teacher workforce, and even offers analyses of programs that are getting it right.

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