Over the past decade, we have made great strides in improving the graduation rate for public school students in Chicago and nationally. However, nearly 20% of high school students still do not complete their high school education, a disproportionate number of whom are low-income youth and students of color.
Because of this, a key social-policy priority in the United States is to improve high school graduation. While the decision to drop out of high school has received a great deal of attention, the problems that lead to dropout almost always start much earlier—with chronic school absences or truancy.
In 2012, almost half of Chicago high school students missed at least three weeks of school, and nearly 15% of elementary students missed over four weeks of school. In addition to dropping out of high school, students with high rates of absenteeism are more likely to experience a host of negative schooling and life outcomes, including failing more classes and becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. Students who miss a large number of days are at higher risk, but missing even a small amount of school is associated with adverse outcomes. Research in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has shown that students who missed just one week of school in ninth grade had lower graduation rates than students who missed less than one week.
Very little is known about the factors contributing to truancy, much less about the most effective possible remedies. While school districts have developed a wide range of policies and administrative systems to enforce truancy laws, only some, if any, of these efforts have ever been rigorously evaluated, so their effectiveness is largely unknown.
Check & Connect (C&C) is a school-based program run by CPS aimed at reducing the number of days that students miss school and increasing students’ engagement with academic activities when they are in school. It provides structured mentoring, progress monitoring, and a case management program designed to strengthen youth connections to school.
C&C has four components:
- A mentor who works with individual students and their families.
- Regular check-ins with the mentor.
- Timely personalized interventions to reestablish student connection to school and learning.
- Engagement with parents.
C&C mentors are full-time, in-school staff who build long-term, trusting relationships with a targeted caseload of high-need students and their families and emphasize the importance of school.
Mentors support students in two key ways: checking and connecting.
Through these activities, mentors carefully monitor student attendance and academic performance and provide support services to students and their parents.
Together with CPS, researchers at the Education Lab evaluated the effectiveness of C&C in CPS elementary schools. The study occurred from 2012-2015 in 23 randomly selected elementary schools on the south and west sides of Chicago with roughly 800 1st-8th graders in two cohorts. The study team found that the program significantly improved students’ attendance, but benefits were primarily concentrated among students in grades 6-8. C&S’s impact on attendance typically grew during a student’s second year of receiving services, with C&C students attending approximately one additional school week in the first year and roughly two additional weeks of school in the second. While C&C effectively increased attendance, the study did not detect significant impacts on other schooling outcomes, such as grades or test scores.
2011 – present
The Effect of Mentoring on School Attendance and Academic Outcomes: A Randomized Evaluation of the Check & Connect Program
This National Bureau of Economic Research paper investigates the impact of a structured student monitoring and mentoring program called Check & Connect (C&C), aimed at mitigating the effects of reduced resources for school attendance enforcement in urban school systems.