With a first-of-it’s-kind report, the Department of Education has called Chronic Absenteeism “a hidden educational crisis”.
The definition of “chronic absenteeism” is more than 15 days in the school year. And the results of this report are shocking. In the school year spanning from 2013-2014, more than 6.5 million children were able to be classified as chronically absent. That averages out to be 13% of all students nationwide missing two to three weeks of school every year.
The numbers don’t tend to show a gender bias, male and female students had pretty similar rates of absenteeism. Race, however, is a clearly different story. While Hispanic students were 9% more likely to be absent compared to white peers, black students were 30% more likely, and American Indian and Pacific Islander students were a whopping 50% more likely to be chronically absent from school. Age also appears to play a factor, with 10% of elementary school children missing three weeks from school or more, 12% of middle schoolers, and almost a full 20% of high school students.
The report itself begins: “Education can only fulfill its promise as the great equalizer—a force that can overcome differences in privilege and background—when we work to ensure that students are in school every day and receive the supports they need to learn and thrive.
At the same time, we know that many students experience tremendous adversity in their lives—including poverty, health challenges, community violence, and difficult family circumstances—that make it difficult for them to take advantage of the opportunity to learn at school.”
Part of the reason for this being a “hidden” educational crisis is that different states and differents districts have all historically used disparate and inconsistent methods of tracking absentee children.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed at the end of 2015, was a way to bridge the gap between the Democratic party wanting to preserve accountability and requirements of educators and institutions to ensure that poor and minority areas received the same, equalized education, and the Republican party, who wants the education decisions to be made on an individual state level. Part of this act was the tracking of the attendance of each child being made mandatory, which has led to the data collected for this report.
Using the data obtained for attendance all over the country, you can see patterns of what is working and what is not. However, the data isn’t infallible. There is no discerning between reasons for absenteeism, so truancy versus illness versus taking a part time job because your family needs it, those absences are all lumped in together.
While it’s known that poor attendance has a negative effect on test scores, and graduation rates from college, it’s hard to determine the best way to solve the problem. The U.S. Department of Education listed some resources in this press release from the Obama administration launching it’s “Every Student, Every Day” program, aimed at eliminating chronic absenteeism, but with so many of the nation’s children remaining in poor, unstable environments and combating a huge amount of challenges every day, it’s safe to say it will be an uphill battle.