Post-pandemic schooling is proving challenging for a number of reasons, from staff shortages to lost learning to supply chain issues. Of increasing concern, however, is a staggering rise in chronic absenteeism. Here we examine national data that suggests the problem is pervasive and widespread.
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country, our public schools had to quickly adapt to new and creative ways to serve the children of Maryland. As schools transitioned to virtual learning, the combined stresses of working from home, managing virtual learning, and caring for the family led some Maryland families to turn to other schooling options for various reasons during the pandemic .
The mix of hybrid in-person/virtual classes, temporary independent homeschooling, and general inconsistency in attendance during the pandemic has resulted in lower enrollment than projected for the last two cycles.
National experts and leaders are now sounding the alarm about school attendance, with absenteeism worse than previously thought. New statewide data on public school attendance and absenteeism suggests about twice as many students were chronically absenteeism during the COVID-19 pandemic as in previous years.
Dig into national data
The US Department of Education (USDE) released updated national data on chronic absenteeism for the 2020-21 school year last month. This data is comprehensive and breaks down chronic absenteeism in each state, down to the county level and by student demographics.
This data revealed that at least 10.1 million students were chronically absent during the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic (the 2020-2021 school year), missing at least 10% of the school year. According to expert analysis, this is a “considerable increase compared to the approximately 8 million chronically absent students in previous years”.
While the USDE data provides helpful context, experts claim they actually underestimate the problem of chronic absenteeism, which they say is likely double previous rates, based on data from just four states — Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and California. Attendance Works experts noted, “Given the diversity of these states, this is evidence that chronic absenteeism has at least doubled nationwide.”
Attendance Works explains the startling effects of such high levels of chronic absenteeism:
This alarming increase in chronic absenteeism has been accompanied by a significant decline in reading and math scores. Long-term trend data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed the largest decline in decades: 9-year-old students scored 5 points lower in reading and 7 points lower in math than their peers in 2020.
The high rates of chronic absenteeism and new NAEP scores add to existing research showing the detrimental impact of chronic absenteeism on student achievement, well-being and graduation rates. Together, the two vividly illustrate the urgent need to invest in comprehensive efforts to ensure that all students attend school regularly, especially those with the least access to equitable learning opportunities.
The challenges of local government – and opportunities
Baltimore City is a good local example of how chronic absenteeism challenges local government and addresses it head-on.
The Super Outreach Sunday phone bank program was recently launched by Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) to connect the school system with students who have had 10 or more unexcused absences or have not attended school since the beginning of 2022 – 23 school year four weeks ago. Corresponding The Baltimore Sun, The program tries to contact more than 1300 students or their families who meet these criteria.
In addition to hoping to get children back to school, the phone book program seeks to connect students and their families with a variety of supportive resources to ultimately encourage their long-term attendance. These resources include public bus tickets and grocery or childcare vouchers for families affected by homelessness.