School Attendance Tanks Across the US

Millions of kids missing weeks of school, according to an AP analysis
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 13, 2023 5:00 PM CDT
Updated Aug 13, 2023 8:01 PM CDT
School Attendance Tanks Across the US
   (Getty / maroke)

Across the country, students have been absent at record rates since schools reopened during the pandemic. More than a quarter of students missed at least 10% of the 2021-22 school year, making them chronically absent, according to the most recent data available. Before the pandemic, only 15% of students missed that much school. All told, an estimated 6.5 million additional students became chronically absent, according to the data, which was compiled by Stanford University education professor Thomas Dee in partnership with the AP. Absences were more prevalent among Latino, Black, and low-income students.

The absences come on top of time students missed during school closures and pandemic disruptions. They cost crucial classroom time as schools work to recover from massive learning setbacks. Absent students miss out not only on instruction but also on all the other things schools provide—meals, counseling, socialization. In the end, students who are chronically absent—missing 18 or more days a year, in most places—are at higher risk of not learning to read and eventually dropping out. "The long-term consequences of disengaging from school are devastating," said Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, a nonprofit addressing chronic absenteeism.

Absences worsened in every state with available data—notably, the analysis found growth in chronic absenteeism did not correlate strongly with state COVID rates. Kids are staying home for myriad reasons—finances, housing instability, illness, transportation issues, school staffing shortages, anxiety, depression, bullying, and generally feeling unwelcome at school. Another lasting effect from the pandemic: Educators and experts say some parents and students have been conditioned to stay home at the slightest sign of sickness.

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Alaska led in absenteeism, with 48.6% of students missing significant amounts of school. Alaska Native students' rate was higher, 56.5%. Most states have yet to release attendance data from 2022-23, the most recent school year. But based on the few that have shared figures, it seems the chronic-absence trend may have long legs. In Connecticut and Massachusetts, chronic absenteeism remained double its pre-pandemic rate.

(Read more education stories.)

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