New FutureEd Report Highlights Student Absenteeism Crisis
Findings Put Students’ Recovery from Pandemic at Risk
A detailed examination of school attendance trends during the pandemic suggests that student absenteeism has been greater than previously reported, especially among young children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to a FutureEd report released today.
While much has been written about overall declines in attendance in the past year, newly analyzed attendance data from five school districts serving nearly 450,000 students in the South, Southwest and West found that:
- Not only are more students missing school, they’re missing many more days than in past. Extreme chronic absenteeism—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.
- Disadvantaged students are recording higher rates of absenteeism in every district we looked at. And the rates are climbing much faster for these students than their more affluent peers, widening attendance gaps and, ultimately, achievement gaps.
- Enrollment declines are steepest in the early grades, foretelling pedagogical and logistical challenges for school districts trying to manage an influx of students who didn’t attend pre-K or kindergarten this school year.
- Perfect attendance rates are up, too. But rather than being a good news story, this likely reflects the challenges in taking the roll in remote learning and the myriad definitions of what constitutes attendance during the pandemic.
These disturbing trends could derail efforts to help students make up for lost instructional time post pandemic. “So much of learning depends on showing up for class,” said Phyllis W. Jordan, author of the report. “Tutoring and extended day programs won’t help if students aren’t there to benefit from them.”
The analysis of attendance data in the five school districts highlighted in the report was done with data from California-based EveryDay Labs, a company cofounded by Harvard Kennedy School behavioral scientist Todd Rogers that works with 2,000 schools to improve student attendance.
In addition to presenting the new findings and their consequences, the report details strategies for using federal Covid relief aid to address the rising tide of student absenteeism, including investments in evidence-based practices, such as home visiting and attendance notifications or nudges. A welcoming climate at school is also essential to bringing students back to class, as is avoiding harsh disciplinary approaches for students who may have dealt with trauma during the pandemic.
Many of the interventions recommended for academic recovery—such as tutoring and mentoring efforts and Community Schools—can also improve attendance, research has shown.
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FutureEd is an independent, solution-oriented think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. We are committed to bringing fresh energy to the causes of excellence, equity, and efficiency in K-12 and higher education on behalf of the nation’s disadvantaged students
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