SAN FRANCISCO, September 6, 2016 – Nine out of 10 U.S. school districts experience some level of chronic absenteeism among students, but half of the nation’s chronically absent students are concentrated in just 4 percent of its districts, according to a new analysis of federal data.
Preventing Missed Opportunity, released on Tuesday, September 6, by Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center underscores how this often overlooked factor is dragging down achievement in communities everywhere – from sprawling suburban places where absenteeism can fester in the shadow of academic achievement to small rural communities where geography complicates getting to school. Disadvantaged urban neighborhoods are particularly hard hit, according to this study of the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection.
“What’s clear from our analysis is that chronic absenteeism follows poverty wherever it is found in significant concentrations,” said Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who leads the Everyone Graduates Center.
Many of the communities with the highest rates are economically, socially and racially isolated. An interactive data map shows a snapshot of some of the districts most affected.
“Chronic absence is one of the earliest signs that we are failing to provide an equal opportunity to learn,” said Chang, executive director of Attendance Works and co-author of Preventing Missed Opportunity: Taking Collective Action to Confront Chronic Absence. “A day lost to school absenteeism is a day lost to learning.”
The study, released in connection with Attendance Awareness Month in September, builds on June’s first-ever release of chronic absence data in the 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection.
The data showed that 6.5 million students, or more than 13 percent nationwide, missed three or more weeks of school in excused or unexcused absences that year. That’s enough time to erode their achievement and threaten their chance of graduating. More than half of those chronically absent students are in elementary or middle school. Some gaps in the data suggest the numbers may be an undercount.
“Our analysis shows that large numbers of chronically absent students can be reached in a relatively small number of districts and schools,” said Balfanz, co-author of the analysis. “This tells us we need to combine widespread awareness of the importance of addressing chronic absenteeism with high intensity, community wide, comprehensive efforts in the small number of highly impacted school districts. This is how we can make chronic absenteeism rare rather than common.”
Further analysis of the data revealed:
Given the scope of the problem, the study by Balfanz and Chang lays out key steps school districts and states can take to turn around attendance. State and local leaders need to know the size of their chronic absence problem to understand how to improve educational outcomes. Information about the concentration and the severity of absenteeism also sheds light on the intensity and nature of support required.
“Leaders can use chronic absence data to engage students, families, community organizations and government agencies in unpacking barriers to getting to school and crafting solutions,” Chang said. “The federal Every Student Succeeds Act offers a critical opportunity for building chronic absence into the school accountability systems used to measure progress and identify where additional support is needed to improve student performance.”
Featuring success stories in communities such as San Francisco and Grand Rapids, Mich., as well as states like Arkansas and Connecticut, the brief shows chronic absence is a solvable problem. It also shares how communities are tackling chronic absence through efforts like the U.S. Department of Education’s My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentors initiative and Diplomas Now.
“The challenge and opportunity of improving attendance is to avoid making the all too common, incorrect assumption that chronically absent students and their parents simply do not care. Instead of blame, schools should use chronic absence as a trigger for collective, strategic, creative problem solving,” Chang said.
*Note: This analysis was developed prior to data corrections submitted to the OCR for Florida and New York City. Nonetheless, we believe these gaps do not change the overall patterns and suggest the overall levels of students missing 15 or more days are an underestimate.
Contact Information: Catherine Cooney, Associate Director, Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
View the online data map to see where the Nation’s Chronically Absent Students Found