“Experts call for cultivating better student relationships and providing families with more supports—exactly what the community schools approach is all about.
School absentee rates that increased dramatically during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic have not declined. In fact, they’re getting worse, according to a September 2022 research analysis posted on the blog site of Attendance Works, a national nonprofit that advocates for reducing “chronic absenteeism” in schools. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of the school year.
This article was produced by Our Schools.
“[C]hronic absence has at least doubled to an estimated 16 million, or one out of three students nationwide,” according to the blog post, authored by Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works; Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University; and Vaughan Byrnes, an affiliated researcher at the Everyone Graduates Center.
The authors back up their estimate using national data as well as 2021-22 school year reports from Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and California.
The authors’ findings were echoed in a March 2023 research study of how unexcused absentee rates are significantly higher for students who already tend to struggle the most in schools. “Socioeconomically disadvantaged students are much more likely to have their absences labeled unexcused,” the study’s summary page highlighted. “This is also true for Black, Native American, Latinx, and Pacific Islander students relative to White, Asian American, and Filipino students. Black students experience the largest disparity.”
The data also appeared in an article by ABC News in April 2023, which added that “nearly half” of students in Washington, D.C., were chronically absent from school in 2022, an increase of 17 percentage points from the previous year.
The causes for the worsening absentee numbers seem complicated and wide-ranging. ABC News pointed to multiple origins, including “behavioral problems,” caused by the loss of socialization skills that occurred during pandemic-induced remote learning, and ‘family struggles.’
Attendance Works lists more than two dozen “root causes” of chronic absenteeism on its website. And COVID-19, which of course has not gone away, has had a lingering influence, causing reinfections, quarantines, and parent hesitancy to return to in-person schooling, according to a December 2021 Chalkbeat article.
But regardless of what is causing this wave of absenteeism, and whether its origins are different from past surges, there’s a widespread consensus that students are likely to experience negative consequences from so many missed days of school.
These negative consequences include, according to an analysis of 2015-2016 school year research studies by the U.S. Department of Education that was updated in 2019, a failure to reach academic “milestones” in the early grades, a greater likelihood of dropping out of school, and ‘poor outcomes later in life, from poverty and diminished health to involvement in the criminal justice system.'”