Can Payments to Parents Cut Down on Early Elementary Absenteeism?
A recent American Prospect article about the Opportunity NYC program caught our eye. Opportunity NYC, initiated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, uses philanthropic dollars to reward poor and low-income families for engaging in behaviors that support their children's development, such as taking children to the doctor or dentist or attending parent-teacher conferences. Parents can also earn financial rewards if their children maintain a good school attendance record over a six month period. A recent evaluation suggests that the program has been successful in getting parents to make sure their young children are in school.
That's especially important, because research indicates that chronic absenteeism in the early elementary grades is both common -- nearly 20 percent of New York City elementary school students missed a month or more of school last year -- and a strong predictor of later school failure. Since young children don't typically make decisions to "play hooky," creating incentives for parents to make sure their kids are in school may be one promising way to address this problem. At the same time, research indicates that the causes of chronic absenteeism in the early grades are complex -- ranging from lack of access to health care and transportation, to concerns about school safety, to school cultures that alienate parents and children. Addressing the problem of chronic absenteeism will require both incentives and clear messaging to parents about the importance of regular school attendance, as well as changes in schools and other social services to address the obstacles that make it hard for parents to get young children to school. As we've written previously, seamless PreK-3rd early education programs -- which help smooth children's transitions to elementary school; offer high-quality early education differentiated to meet individual student needs; and engage families, communities and schools together to improve children's outcomes -- can also help here.
The article, by Dana Goldstein, appeared in a special supplement to the American Prospect looking at an anti-poverty agenda for the United States in light of the current economic crisis. One in five American children live in poverty, and the numbers are likely to get worse in the current downturn. Well worth checking out.
Also worth checking out on the American Prospect site is Michelle Goldberg's review of Just Like Family: Inside the Lives of Nannies, the Parents They Work for, and the Children They Love, a new book by Tasha Blaine looking at nannies and the families they work for. We sometimes get annoyed at the amount of media attention focused on nannies when the vast majority of American children are in other forms of childcare, but Goldberg's review offers a good reminder of how much our child care system relies on and too often exploits the work of low-paid, often minority, often immigrant women.