May 2012

New Study: Up to 7.5 Million Students Miss a Month of School Annually

Up to 7.5 million students miss nearly a month of school every year, a trend that goes largely unnoticed despite the devastating effects on student achievement, according to a new report released today and featured in today's New York Times, Huffington Post and USA Today.

The study, compiled by the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and the Get Schooled Foundation, offers the first national glimpse at the prevalence of chronic absenteeism in schools, a critical early warning sign that predicts students' likelihood of dropping out of school. Attendance is one of the three key early warning signs on which Diplomas Now focuses. Diplomas Now works to eliminate those warning signs, especially absenteeism, and get students back on track to graduation. In fact, the new report features a case study on efforts to boost attendance at Dever-McCormack Middle School in Boston (See story below).

Johns Hopkins researchers Robert Balfanz and his team studied trends in six states that have calculated their numbers: Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon and Rhode Island. From that data, they projected that 10 percent to 15 percent of students nationwide are chronically absent, generally defined as missing 10 percent of school days.

Among the findings:
  • Chronic absenteeism affects students in urban, rural and suburban districts. In some urban districts, a third of the students are chronically absent, while poor rural areas are in the 25 percent range.
  • The rates are highest in kindergarten and in the high school years.
  • Children in poverty are more likely to be miss school regularly.
  • Chronically absent students tend to be concentrated in a relatively small number of schools. In Florida, for example, 52 percent of chronically absent students were in just 15 percent of schools.
"I hope that this report and the policy recommendations it offers will encourage more states and school districts to start monitoring chronic absence data as Diplomas Now does," said Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, a national initiative that promotes better policy, practice and research on chronic absence.

Focus on Success: Boston's Dever-McCormack Middle School Dancing to Perfect Attendance

At Dever-McCormack K-8, a Diplomas Now partner school in Boston, students are dancing their way to better attendance and a more positive school climate.

Dever-McCormack's teachers, administrators and the Diplomas Now team boosted students' enthusiasm for being at school by sponsoring the AttenDANCE as an incentive for kids who attended school at least 95 percent of the time during the second term, which spanned about 45 school days.

More than 200 sixth-graders attended the school's first AttenDANCE event in January. Organizers the Diplomas Now team and two other local nonprofits, Citizen Schools and Tenacity held the dance at a hall across from the school, making students even more excited.

"The fact that it was off-site made it even more special," said Katie Grassa, Diplomas Now coordinator at the school. "Most kids love incentives. Many of them were excited about the dance and were getting more interested in being at school." Read more here.

Detroit Collegiate Prep Students Wearing Their Pride

Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School (DCPrep) students are ready to wear their pride, quite literally, as all are working toward earning a blazer as a symbol of what it means to dress the part of a respectful, mature, focused and academic student.

DCPrep students are earning their blazers through PBIS or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports efforts based on dressing for success. They will earn blazers by demonstrating social and academic skills that will benefit them as they progress through DCPrep and life. Next year, DCPrep students will be required to wear a navy blue blazer.

The Blazer Ceremony integrates all four Talent Development Secondary pillars in an end-of-year PBIS celebration (Pillar 3) when students will receive their blazers. These social and academic skills are drawn from a book, The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering Success in Every Child (2003) by Ron Clark, which DCPrep's principal, Ricardo Martin, shared with the staff. Read more here.

Join Us in Baltimore in July for the Diplomas Now Summer Institute!

Please join us for the 2012 Diplomas Now Summer Institute, which will be held July 9 and 10 at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore on the Inner Harbor. Hosted by the Diplomas Now Implementation Support Team and the Diplomas Now National Executive Team, the event is expected to draw more than 400 attendees from across the entire Diplomas Now network.

This year's summer institute will give attendees a chance to deepen their understanding of the Diplomas Now model and consider how it can be applied locally. Attendees also will have the opportunity to network and connect with other Diplomas Now colleagues from across the country and discuss best practices from all of the schools.

Events and sessions will focus on the five pillars of Diplomas Now: Teacher teams and small learning communities, curriculum and instruction/professional development, tiered student support, a can-do climate for students and staff, and collaboration. The exciting speakers include keynote speaker Bill Milliken, the charismatic founder and vice chairman of Communities In Schools.

Registration information has been distributed to each city's Diplomas Now executive team. Please refer to this information for instructions on how to register for the event. The registration deadline is June 1. For more information about the institute, please contact Jessica Herman, Diplomas Now Summer Institute Director, at

Diplomas Now Advisory Committee to Hold Launch Meeting at Newtown High School on May 30

The advisory committee for Diplomas Now will hold its launch meeting on May 30 at Newtown High School in Queens. The event will include a tour of the school and lunch. The advisory committee will help Diplomas Now achieve a considerable development goal – to raise $28 million during the next four years. The good news is that we've already raised $7.75 million.

The funding is needed to sustain the independent evaluation of Diplomas Now's impact on school attendance, behavior and course performance, and graduation rates in schools grappling with high poverty. This controlled, randomized study, conducted by the leading research organization MDRC, will yield results of the highest standard. We believe the validation from this study will help make the case for federal dollars for Diplomas Now and similar models to assist hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged students.

But a study of this magnitude is expensive, and the $30 million Investing in Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education won't cover the full cost of the study. Our founding investor, the PepsiCo Foundation, has already committed $6 million, but we need to raise $28 million more.

Our advisory council includes:

  • William Andrekopoulos, former superintendent, Milwaukee Public Schools and member of City Year Milwaukee's Board of Directors
  • Dan A. Domenech, executive director, American Association of School Administrators
  • Audrey M. Hutchinson, program director of education and afterschool initiatives, National League of Cities (NLC), Institute for Youth, Education, and Families
  • Ed Hatcher, president, The Hatcher Group
  • Wes Moore, author, business leader and youth advocate
  • Kathy Havens Payne, senior director of education leadership at State Farm
  • Stacey Davis Stewart, executive vice president, community impact at United Way Worldwide

Charles Hiteshew, CEO of Talent Development, is spearheading the development campaign.

Ed Secretary Arne Duncan Kicks Off City Year Summit in D.C.; New Paper Highlights Diplomas Now

Describing City Year's focus on keeping kids in school as "laser-like," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lauded corps members who work as mentors and role models for students in the nation's toughest schools during City Year's National Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. City Year is one of the three key Diplomas Now partners, and Duncan's remarks came during the May 15 plenary, "In School and On Track: City Year's Long-Term Strategy." Duncan said, "If we give our student long-term support, if we have the highest of expectations for them, and if we give them real opportunities to learn and grow and develop and again be exposed to role models what you guys do every single day our children can beat the odds and they will beat it on a consistent basis." City Year also announced a $10 million gift from longtime supporters Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine, and part of that money will indirectly support Diplomas Now.

At the summit, City Year also released a white paper co-authored by City Year President Jim Balfanz and William Andrekopoulos, former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools that highlights Diplomas Now as an example of the kind of "comprehensive, intensive, reform" initiative needed to turn around underperforming schools. The paper notes that "while each of the Diplomas Now organizations could work independently toward their shared goal, the combination of their strengths and the highly coordinated integration of their services has led to a greater level of impact. For example, the near-peer relationships that City Year forms with students in a multitude of settings allow for more timely referrals to the (Communities In Schools) site coordinator, who then brokers critical community resources to ensure students' non-academic needs are met sooner."

During the summit's congressional luncheon, Bob Balfanz, a leader of Diplomas Now, moderated a panel of researchers and practitioners including Ricardo Martin, principal at Detroit Collegiate Prep.

Diplomas Now in the News

Washington Post Publishes Commentary from Bob Balfanz on Washington's D.C. New Dropout Stats

The Washington Post published a piece from Diplomas Now leader Robert Balfanz about new legislation passed by the DC City Council to create an early warning system pilot project in four D.C. schools. New figures show that only 58 percent of Washington, D.C., high school students graduated on time last year, one of the lowest graduation rates in the country. Read Professor Balfanz's piece here.

WAMU Features Browne Education Campus in Hour-Long Documentary on Dropout Crisis. Listen here.

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