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October 3rd Counts

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Woody Allen famously said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

For school districts across the state of Michigan, this Wednesday proves the wisdom of that statement.

October 3, 2012 is Count Day. According to the Michigan Department of Education's guidelines, "Count Day is when all public schools in Michigan tally the number of students attending their schools. Count information is critical to districts, because each student translates into state funding."

What are the stakes? It is estimated that the State of Michigan's per-pupil funding is $11,320, and a little more than half that money comes as the result of Count Day numbers.

School administrators certainly recognize the day's importance. Throughout the city of Detroit, schools will hold activities such as "Wear Your Pajamas to School Day" and "Win a Laptop Day." These programs will certainly get students to school, as will the teams of volunteers who will fan out across the city collecting a "stipend" for every wayward student that they bring to school.

You can argue the logic of using a single day to largely determine school funding levels. However, Michigan is hardly alone in its approach.

In Duval County, Florida, the school district is in the middle of its 20-day count. Enrollment numbers do not directly affect state funding in Florida. However, they are a contributing factor. And while Duval County Public School Systems' total enrollment is an impressive 125,387 students, this number is still almost 1,000 students below the state's projections. The decrease could result in the school system losing between $4 and $5 million in state funding.

But while the economic stakes are high, activities such as Count Day can obscure a broader issue regarding school attendance. Nationally, our dropout rate sits at nearly 8 percent - more than 15 percent for Hispanic students. In 2009, the average Detroit high school student missed 46 days of school.

These numbers are simply unacceptable. As parents, as community members, and as a society, we must do more to make sure that our children "show up" each and every day.

Studies show that attendance is one of the most significant contributors to students' success. In fact, one study suggests that a 1 percent increase in average attendance can lead to an 11.6 point jump in a school's combined pass rate. (1)

Don't get me wrong. I know that there will be another event on the 3rd that may attract the attention of the country away from Count day. And, I admit, that will be watching the polling numbers track across the bottom of my TV just like everyone else. But out of the corner of my eye I will be paying attention to the results coming out of Detroit, and hoping for the best.

When all this is said I cannot help asking myself a simple question:

"If every day can't be Count Day, how can we make every day Count?"

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(1): Principals' Assessment of Schools Survey, "Is There a Correlation Between Perceived Building Quality and Standardized Test Scores?" By: Peter Riordan and Greg Monberg. Indiana University South Bend, School of Business and Economics, A503 Statistical Applications, April 24, 2012