It sounds intuitive and logical because it is: Kids can't be taught if they're not in class.
"This is an easy conclusion to reach," said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. "If kids aren't in school, they can't learn. An empty seat does not fulfill the dream of educating the child."
Showing up for school is the obvious first step toward academic success, but on any given day, a staggering 20,000 children are absent from Miami-Dade Public Schools. So the district is launching a new initiative called "iAttend-MDCPS" to attack the problem.
"The greatest responsibility falls on me as a parent, or you as a parent, it is our duty," said Miami-Dade PTSA President Joe Gebara.
Our duty, Gebara said, is to put children in a position to succeed. The first step isn't just getting them to school every day, but making sure everyone knows why that's so crucial, according to Miami's Urban League President, T. Willard Fair.
"So part of what we've got to do before we talk about attendance is also condition the parents to whom the children belong about the value of education," Fair said at Friday's news conference to announce the initiative, held at Jose de Diego Middle School in Wynwood.
The district presented data showing a strong correlation between being absent and weak academic performance, with graphs clearly indicating the more a child is absent, the less proficient that child is in math and reading scores.
The strategy of iAttend-MDCPS is to smother the 43 schools which have the biggest problems with chronic absenteeism with a full-court press including home visits from social workers and police officers, along with motivational calls to students from Miami Marlins, Miami Heat, and Miami Dolphins players. Even the Miami City Ballet is a partner in the effort.
"We cannot do this alone, it takes the power of the community," Carvalho said.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado pledged the city's support, and said on a visit to Tucker Elementary in Coconut Grove last week, one child told him that she had missed the first day of school because she didn't have shoes. Another child, Regalado said, told him, "I missed school because my little sister got sick and i had to stay to take care of her the other day because my mom works."
Carvalho said there's a strong correlation between poverty and absenteeism, and another correlation between crime rates and absentee rates at the local schools. If 20,000 kids are home instead of in school, some of those, Carvalho said, are bound to get into trouble.
"If we want to drop daytime crime, if we want to increase academic performance, let's bring kids to school," Carvalho said.
Although iAttend-MDCPS is a county-wide initiative, the district is placing extra counselors at the schools with the biggest attendance issues, and is still looking to hire 20 qualified counselors to work in this effort.