The Nation Faces School Attendance and Graduation Crises

Writing for Governing Magazine, Carl Smith chronicles the nation’s growing school attendance crisis. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

For K-12 students, chronic absence, generally defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days, has escalated into a “full-scale crisis” since 2019, says a new report from the nonprofit Attendance Works, with two- and threefold increases in many states. The levels are highest among low-income and minority students, it says, from the same communities most affected by the pandemic in other ways.

“We all hoped this was going to be the year of not only ‘back,’ but ‘back better,’” says researcher Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. “Then we saw continuing reports of chronic absenteeism staying high and even going higher.”

At the extreme end of this trend, a March survey from the Government Accountability Office found that in the 2020-2021 school year, almost half of public-school teachers had at least one student who never showed up for class at all. Graduation rates are down in most states for the first time in 15 years, and it’s both common sense and scientific fact that fewer students in class adds up to fewer graduates.

“Almost 10 percent of the school population seems to have disappeared,” says Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).

States began to pay more attention to tracking chronic absence before the pandemic, but more work is needed. There’s no better place to start for districts that want to untangle what needs to be done in their communities to get educational outcomes and graduation rates back on track, says Balfanz.

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