Op-ed: To Keep Poor Students in School, Provide Social Services

Posted by on September 8, 2014

Chronically absent political will

Given hardships at home, poor kids could be expected to have the best school attendance, if only because school offers a hot meal and orderly environment, writes Daniel Cardinali of Communities in Schools for an op-ed in The New York Times. Yet poor children are most often chronically absent. Amazingly, Cardinali writes, the federal government doesn’t track absenteeism, but state numbers are alarming. In Maryland, for example, 31 percent of high school students eligible for the federal lunch program were chronically absent this year; for students above the income threshold, the figure was 12 percent. But policymakers treat dropout rates and chronic absenteeism as “school” problems, while issues like housing and mental health, which have huge bearing on a child’s performance in school, are “social” problems. To bridge this divide, the community school model would bring a site coordinator, with training in education or social work, into every high-poverty school. That person would identify at-risk students and match them with services in both school and community. Putting social workers in schools is a low-cost way of avoiding bigger problems down the road, but will require a measure of political courage, something all too often chronically absent.


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