School & District Management

Where Are All the Kids? 4 Things to Know About the Current Absenteeism Crisis

By Mark Bomster — April 11, 2022 2 min read
Classroom without students. Empty desks
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Kids miss school every day and always have—often for good reasons. But school leaders around the country say they’re struggling with a wave of chronic absenteeism that’s worsened over the course of the pandemic.

There are lots of factors, ranging from COVID-specific illness and family disruption to students who have just fallen out of the habit of regular attendance. And while current statistics are scarce, educators say the empty seats don’t make it any easier to get schools back to normal.

Here are a few takeaways from recent Education Week reporting that offer perspective on the problem and the challenges schools face.

What is ‘chronic absenteeism,’ anyway?

As the term suggests, it’s more than just missing school for a day or two.

Definitions vary, but the nonprofit advocacy group Attendance Works describes “chronic absenteeism” as missing 10 percent or more of school days, whether it be for excused absences like illness (or quarantine) or for other reasons that could even include suspensions. (By contrast, “satisfactory attendance” is considered to be missing fewer than 5 percent of school days.)

But some kids miss far more days than that simple yardstick might suggest. Some advocates, such as Hedy Chang, of Attendance Works, recommend more-nuanced calibrations that could capture things like “extreme absenteeism"—or having missed half the attendance days or more at any given point.

What did things look like before the pandemic turned schools upside down?

Analysis of U.S. Department of Education data back in 2018 found that 1 in 7 kids were “chronically absent” in the 2015-16 school year. And more than half of those students were in schools where the rates were more than 20 percent.

So where do things stand now, more than two years into the COVID-19 crisis?

It’s still a moving target as the school year progresses and data remains spotty. But one intriguing indicator comes from a McKinsey & Co. survey in November 2021, in which 22 percent of respondents said their child had missed at least four days of school at that point in the year. And the trend line didn’t look good: If things were to stay on that track for the rest of the year, it would translate into at least 15 days of missed school—"chronic absenteeism” territory.

Data aside, how can schools keep kids coming back?

Build habit, attachment, and family connections, say those working in the school-attendance field.

In some communities, educators work the neighborhoods to know what stresses families are facing that impede their ability to assure kids show up every day. They meet parents where they are, be it in person or online.

Within schools, it pays to build trusting relationships between students and adults; research shows kids are more likely to attend if they feel connected and know their needs will be met.

And look for resources to help, including through the $122 billion in American Recovery Plan funding, which includes federal money for a wide range of needs as schools seek to snap back from the pandemic.

Related Tags:

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leading Systemic Redesign: Strategies from the Field
Learn how your school community can work together to redesign the school system, reengineer instruction, & co-author personalized learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management ACLU Texas Files OCR Complaint Over a District's Anti-Trans Book Ban
The group claims the Keller school district's new policy to remove books about gender fluidity from library shelves violates federal law.
4 min read
Banned books are visible at the Central Library, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system, in New York City on Thursday, July 7, 2022. The books are banned in several public schools and libraries in the U.S., but young people can read digital versions from anywhere through the library. The Brooklyn Public Library offers free membership to anyone in the U.S. aged 13 to 21 who wants to check out and read books digitally in response to the nationwide wave of book censorship and restrictions.
Banned books are on diplay at the Central Library, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system, in New York City on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Some of these books are among those banned by school districts in Texas.
Ted Shaffrey/AP
School & District Management Political Tensions in Schools Are 'Pervasive,' Principals Say
High school principals reported high levels of student conflict due to political beliefs and parent efforts to limit curriculum about race.
6 min read
Image of political tension surrounding school leaders.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week via iStock/Getty
School & District Management Litter Boxes in Schools: How a Disruptive and Demeaning Hoax Frustrated School Leaders
A hoax claiming that schools were providing litter boxes to students wasted school leaders' time as they worked to debunk it.
6 min read
Smartphone with blue and red colored hoax bubbles floating up off of the screen onto a dark black background with illegible lines of text also in the background.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management A New Federal Grant Will Fund Schools' Energy Upgrades. Here's What to Know
The Department of Energy released new funding to help schools redo HVAC systems, add renewable energy, and upgrade facilities.
3 min read
A small white space heater directs air under a teacher's desk. On the front of the desk is a sign that says "Welcome to our classroom."
Personal space heaters are a common item found in the classrooms at Greene County High School in Snow Hill, N.C., where they're used to heat rooms when the HVAC units fail. New federal grants will help schools upgrade climate systems and add energy efficiency measures.
Alex Boerner for Education Week