Present Danger: Solving the Deepening Student Absenteeism Crisis

With coronavirus vaccinations rising, Covid cases falling, and schools reopening, education leaders are turning their attention to expanding learning opportunities post-pandemic. 

But strikingly high rates of student absenteeism threaten that work. A new FutureEd report on attendance trends in five school districts serving nearly 450,000 students suggests that student absenteeism has been far greater during the pandemic than has been previously reported. The detailed analysis, conducted by EveryDay Labs, found that significant numbers of students have missed as much as half the school calendar. The piece describes the absenteeism crisis, its consequences, and strategies for using federal Covid relief aid to address it.

Significant findings include:

  • Not only are more students missing school, they’re missing many more days than in past. The number of students missing half the school year has risen exponentially.
  • Absenteeism rates are rising faster among younger students, who typically have better attendance than high schoolers. In some places, the rates are now higher than for older students.
  • Disadvantaged students are recording higher rates of absenteeism in every district we reviewed, with attendance gaps, and ultimately achievement gaps, widening between these students and their more affluent peers.
  • Enrollment declines are steepest in the early grades, foretelling pedagogical and logistical challenges for school districts trying to manage an influx of students next fall who didn’t enroll in Pre-K or kindergarten this year.
  • Even as chronic absenteeism rises, perfect attendance rates are also up. Rather than being a good news story, this likely reflects the challenges in taking the roll in remote learning and the myriad definitions for what constitutes attendance.

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