Most Chronically Absent Students in Nation Concentrated in 4 Percent of School Districts

Although chronic absenteeism occurs in most school districts, just 4 percent of the nation’s school districts account for about half of the nation’s chronically absent students.

A report released by Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center highlighted disparities around chronic absenteeism thanks to data made available for the first time from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Nationally, about 13 percent of all students in the country — or about 6.5 million students — missed three or more weeks of school with excused or unexcused absences during the 2013-14 school year.

According to the authors of “Preventing Missed Opportunity,” these gaps can spell trouble. Chronic absenteeism is correlated with lower academic achievement and higher levels of suspension. Studies also show that missing significant chunks of school can lead to a greater likelihood of high-school dropout.

In digging deeper into the new federal data, the authors found persistent disparities. Of the districts with the highest number of chronically absent students, 47 percent were located in urban areas. In these urban areas, chronically absent students were likely to come from school districts in communities comprised largely of African American and Latino populations and with elevated rates of poverty.

About 45 percent of school districts with the highest levels of chronic absenteeism were located in suburban areas. Some of the school districts with the greatest numbers of chronically absent students occurred in affluent areas that have a strong record of academic achievement, reflecting the large size of these districts as well as the increasing numbers of low-income students.

The “Preventing Missed Opportunity” report draws attention to several initiatives at the local and state level that have been effective at curbing chronic absenteeism, including programs in Grand Rapids, Mich.; San Francisco, Calif.; Arkansas and Connecticut, among others.

The authors also make the following recommendations about how districts can better address chronic absenteeism:

  • Invest in consistent and accurate data collection.
  • Use data to understand need and disproportionate impact in order to target resources.
  • Leverage data to identify places that are getting results.
  • Share data with key stakeholders.
  • Equip stakeholders to unpack barriers and take action.
  • Create shared accountability.

Part of the report also includes an interactive data map, which allows a closer look at the location of the school districts with the most chronic absenteeism in the country.

Click here to read the full report.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1164 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.