Three Things Our Region Can Do to Get Kids Back in School Regularly

(September 22, 2023)

This Bold Voices blog post was written by one of Allies for Children’s partners about a subject that is relevant to their work as well as ours.
Today’s blog was written by:
James Fogarty, Executive Director of A+ Schools.

News headlines from the New York Times, Washington Post and the Associated Press all tell a similar story: millions more students across the country are chronically absent from school – missing 10% or more days per year – in the last two years than were prior to the pandemic. Thomas Dee, a Stanford economist who recently reviewed data from all 50 states, has found that there was a 91% increase in chronic absenteeism between the 2018-19 school year and the 2021-22 school year. Pointedly, he found that “Enrollment loss, COVID-19 case rates, and school masking policies are not associated with the state-level growth in chronic absenteeism. This suggests that the sharp rise in chronic absenteeism reflects other important barriers to learning (e.g. declining youth mental health, academic disengagement) that merit further scrutiny…”

We know that the pandemic has caused massive gaps in student learning, and there’s been an historic set of investments in schools through the American Rescue Plan and state and local increases in education spending. If we want those investments to work to address the lost learning, we need to get every kid into every school every day. And we can.

At A+ Schools we know that getting every child to school every day is a problem all of us can work together to solve. It starts with listening. By understanding the barriers students and families are facing, the challenges that schools are having, and the aspirations that teachers and parents have for children, we can unlock the potential of our community to ignite students’ passions and get them to school everyday.

Here are 3 things we’re doing to get every kid to school, get every kid to school ready to learn, and give every kid a school worth going to – things that you can be a part of to solve this problem.

  1. Help parents and families understand the problem: research out of Harvard University has found that families underestimate by half the number of days that their child has missed. In addition, communication to families for years has been about avoiding unexcused absences or face penalties for truancy. Partnering with Everyday Labs and Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) – with generous support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation – we are delivering letters and text messages to families that have shown to reduce chronic absence by 10-15%. These simple reminders let families know how many days their child has missed, where they can find supports for their child, and build understanding around the importance of being in school everyday.

    In the first year of implementation, chronic absenteeism was reduced by 16% in PPS, with 58% of students improving their attendance rate after receiving a nudge through the program. Click here to learn more about Everyday Labs and how you can advocate for their intervention to come to your school district.

  2. Help kids get to school: Post-pandemic, severe shortages of school bus drivers have meant that schools that used to provide bus transportation have had to get creative about maintaining that support. For some, like PPS, it has meant expanding the zone where students are expected to walk. At Pittsburgh Arlington, the expansion of the walking zone led to over 200 students not getting yellow bus transportation that used to get it. (Allies for Children should be commended for the hard work they’ve done to try and improve the efficiency of school transportation in our region. Read the reports on their important work here!)

    The Brashear Association, a neighborhood multi-service organization in South Pittsburgh, stepped up to address this issue in 2 unique ways. First, they bought vans and began transporting children the school identified as having some of the greatest difficulty walking (whether because of a safe route or because they were little). Second, they hired retired grandmothers to provide “Nudges from Nanna” to connect with parents and help coordinate the transportation day to day. Students were then picked up and became part of the Brashear Association’s afterschool program. Support the Brashear Association with a donation here.

    As a result of this program, and other in-school supports like a barbershop and attendance incentives funded by members of the Pittsburgh legal community, chronic absence at Arlington went down from 73.3% to 53.7% – a reduction of 26.7% in one year.

  3. Supporting educators with community resources and partnerships to create engaging and relevant coursework: Since 2018, A+ Schools has worked with the teachers, students, and leadership at Pittsburgh Perry High School to facilitate a process to redesign the high school. We know that kids, especially our older students, need to be challenged with engaging and relevant coursework. The teachers and staff at Perry have done an incredible job working with community partners to create a new STEAM Pathway at Perry that brings in community partners like the Carnegie Science Center, Moonshot Museum, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and others to provide project and field based learning opportunities that are aligned with their core curriculum.

    These efforts are transforming the school and this year we’ve seen an increase in student enrollment of over 100 additional students compared to last year.

This National Attendance Awareness Month we hope you engage with one of the community projects or work with your local community to address chronic absence. Daily attendance is about more than just getting to school. It’s about communities having the systems and supports so all children can thrive. Go to to learn more about how you can help get every kid in every school every day.