Larry Abramson

Ask Detroit teachers about their biggest challenge, and many will say, "You can't teach kids who don't come to class." Last year, the average Detroit public high school student missed at least 28 days of school.

Now, as part of its effort to get parents more involved, the district has launched a major initiative to improve attendance. The effort includes parent workshops and attendance agents charged with pushing parents to send their kids to school every day.

George Eason is one of Detroit's 51 attendance agents. He's staring at a printout that says a lot about the city's attendance problems. He flips the pages, counting the absences that one student has racked up only midway through the school year.

"To date, this student has 23 absences," he says, "and a couple of suspensions."

As an attendance agent for Detroit Public Schools, Eason covers the city's border with Dearborn, Mich. He says most parents want their kids in school — they just need a little help. Others need a good strong shove.

"We do take parents to court, depending on the dynamics of the case," he says. "If we see that the parent is willfully keeping the child out for things such as babysitting or whatever, and not sending the child to school, then we will take every means necessary to enforce the law."

A Landscape Of Closed Schools

The city hopes to convert more than 40 schools into charters to cut costs and improve enrollment.

Eason gathers up his attendance records and climbs into his trusty Honda. On the way to his first stop, he points out school after school that was forced to close as the city's population contracted. He says that when he started this job 18 years ago, Detroit Public Schools had more than twice as many students as it has today.

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