Testimony of Rashida Young at Committee of the Whole & Education Public Oversight Roundtable
Testimony of Rashida Young
Equity and Fidelity Senior Manager DC Public Charter School Board
Improving School Attendance: Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism, and the Implementation of Reform Initiative
Committee of the Whole
May 10, 2018
Chairman Mendelson, Chairman Grosso and Councilmembers, my name is Rashida Young and I am Senior Manager of the Equity and Fidelity Team at the DC Public Charter School Board. In my role, I oversee several indicators of public charter school quality, including attendance and truancy.
As you may know, DC PCSB is an active member of the Every Day Counts! Task Force as well as numerous other initiatives around the city such as the Juveniles in the Care of the District of Columbia working group. We facilitate best practice sharing events, so our schools have an avenue to discuss what is and isn’t working to improve student attendance and partner with groups such as Show Up Stand Out. We, like you, are concerned that despite the efforts schools, partner agencies, and we are doing to reduce truancy in the city, we have been unsuccessful in reducing the number of students missing school without an excuse. In fact, as you know, truancy rates are on the rise.
As we shared in October, one tool we use in helping schools address truancy is providing schools with up-to-date comparable attendance data and supporting them in their efforts to monitor their own rates. Additionally, we enforce our Truancy Policy, where we bring schools before our board for a notice of concern when their truancy rate exceeds 30% for elementary and middle schools, 35% for high schools, and 45% for DC PCSB designated "alternative" schools. These notices of concern can affect schools’ growth plans, ability to borrow money, and is factored into their charter reviews and renewals. This school year, three school’s rates exceeded the threshold and have received a Notice of Concern.
Regarding best practice sharing, we held two school climate brunches where schools shared strategies on improving school culture. And at our most recent charter leaders meeting, we invited staff of two schools that provide buses for their students to share the benefits, challenges, and lessons learned of providing transportation, as it relates to attendance.
Our staff reviews charter sector and school level attendance data monthly. Last month, after seeing that in-seat attendance numbers were dropping, we decided to survey schools to ask about their root causes of chronic absenteeism, strategies they use to improve student attendance, and what supports they’d like DC agencies to provide. The results of the survey, in short, indicate that schools need much more help from all agencies than is currently offered.
DC PCSB received 42 survey responses, 14 of which were anonymous and could not be tied to a specific charter LEA. Those survey responses indicated that 64% of the schools cited transportation as their number one barrier for students coming to school. Anecdotally, we’ve heard a few reasons for this. Busses are often full when they reach and travel through the city, passing by students at their stops. Both Metrobus and Metrorail can run on unpredictable and unreliable schedules. Bus routes are not necessarily optimized to get students close to where they need to be. Some students in foster care must travel from far away housing in Maryland or Virginia. And in other cases, mom, dad, or a guardian may not own a car or be able to drop them off on a given day.
One school said, “Transportation is an ongoing issue that continues to impact student attendance negatively…Many students have to wake up at 5 a.m. for their commute to school because of the transfers to several buses or the long route by car. Public transportation is not always reliable. Therefore, I would like DC agencies to consider offering students eligibility for city-provided transportation services if they live outside the quadrant where the school is located, are homeless, in Pre-K, and have a 504 Plan.”
Another top reason cited by schools was the student being responsible for the care of a sibling or another family member. Many older students have to get their younger siblings to school while the parent is at work. This can also be coupled with the transportation issue if a student’s sibling is late in getting ready or happens to be in an inconvenient place relative to the student’s own school.
Among the suggestions for supports the schools requested were:
- Improved transportation
- More coordination between CFSA/CSS/DCYRS. They have jurisdictional issues and siloed work.
- Partnerships between schools in the same geographical area
- Assistance with conducting home visits
- Greater access to health services, including asthma education and immunization assistance
- Paid after-school internships for high school and adult students
Before I conclude, there is one issue that I just cited that I would like to expound upon. We have noticed through our conversations with schools that there is room for improvement to ensure city agencies are working cohesively as possible and following up with schools about students on their caseload or in their care. In our survey, some schools noted that they were unaware what occurred with their truancy referrals after they were submitted, particularly students age 14 to 17. Additionally, we recently became aware of an incident where there was confusion over which agency had jurisdiction over a student’s whereabouts. One of our schools was trying to locate a child in the custody of CFSA or DYRS. For weeks the school did not know where the student was and was not sure which agency to work with. The school learned weeks later that the student was being detained until a space became available at a group home. We realize there are sometimes barriers to sharing information due to student privacy, but in general we believe increased communication among all DC agencies will only help schools better serve their students.
With the recent passage of the Fair Access to Schools Act, schools are now being asked effectively to address the root cause of a student’s issues. Many of these are rooted outside of the school and are difficult for schools to address without more help. We ask that you take a comprehensive look at the issue and realize that the issues are not separate, cannot be addressed by schools alone, and work with us on a comprehensive strategy to assist the students most in need.
We have attached the full results of the survey of my testimony to give you more in-depth information. Thank you for allowing me to testify today. I would be happy to answer any questions.