Schools are suffering from low attendance

But students are suffering even more

lass is again in session, but not everyone heard the bell. Following the Covid-19 lockdown, schools reopened, but many students have not come back — even to this day. Chronic absenteeism is a problem plaguing the education system and indicates a lack of motivation among students. There are also long-term effects associated with missing school, which could hinder students’ success in the future.

Mind matters

Following the pandemic, the number of chronically absent students has doubled from 7.3 million students nationally in the 2015-16 school year to 14.7 million in the 2020-21 year, increasing in almost every state, according to a report by Attendance Works. Chronic absenteeism means “missing at least 10% of the school year, or about two days of school every month,” as defined by The New York Times. In addition, “nearly 70% of the highest poverty schools experienced widespread, chronic absenteeism in the 2021-22 school year, compared with 25% before the pandemic,” the Times added. While data shows that attendance rates have slightly rebounded since then, current rates are still notably less than pre-pandemic levels.  

This trend also points to a bigger problem. “When you see these high levels of chronic absence, it’s a reflection that the positive conditions of learning that are essential for motivating kids to show up to school have been eroded,” Hedy Chang, the founder and executive director of Attendance Works, told Vox. “It’s a sign that kids aren’t feeling physically and emotionally healthy and safe.” A number of circumstances can prevent school attendance, including poverty, illness, lack of transportation and childcare, and mental health. Chang added, “Belonging, connection, and support — in addition to the academic challenge and engagement and investments in student and adult well-being — are all so crucial to positive conditions for learning.”

Remote learning during the pandemic also changed behaviors. “If I were a child, and I could stay at home on my computer, in my room, and play with my little toys on the side, pick up the game for your break or lunchtime, how hard is it to sit in a school building for seven hours?” Shepria Johnson, who leads a team at Concentric Educational Solutions, which makes home visits to students who are chronically absent in the Detroit area, told ProPublica. “It takes us to help build those habits.”

Falling behind

Chronic absenteeism can also cause larger problems for students’ futures. “Students cannot learn if they are not in school, and they cannot benefit from interventions, such as tutoring, that are supposed to help them make up for pandemic losses,” The New York Times explained. Without steady education, students can easily fall behind and then perhaps jeopardize their prospects for attending college or getting a job. “Constant absences create chaotic classroom environments, with teachers needing to help students make up missed work or missing students disrupting the balance of classrooms that might be necessary for certain lessons,” Vox detailed. “Chronic absenteeism increases educational inequality since it has risen more among disadvantaged students, particularly those with disabilities and those from lower-income households.”

“What we’re seeing is a large-scale failure for a substantial number of our students to reengage,” said Thomas Dee, a Stanford economist and the Barnett Family Professor of Education, told Vox. The good news is that chronic absenteeism can be curbed. Many states have already implemented new initiatives to encourage attendance, including home visits and mentor programs. Kari Sullivan Custer, an education consultant for attendance and engagement at the Connecticut State Department of Education, remarked to Vox, “We definitely have the ability to turn this around. It might take a little while, but we’re just going to keep right at it, being positive and focusing on the successes.”

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