Chronic absenteeism not viewed as major concern

In many circles, chronic absenteeism has emerged as one of the biggest problems facing schools right now. As I wrote here, Minnesota’s chronic absenteeism rate has more than doubled since 2017.

But the general population and parents of school-aged children don’t see chronic absenteeism as a major concern, according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll. Only five percent of parents and the general population included chronic absenteeism as something they were most worried about when it comes to K-12 education (respondents could choose multiple answers).

The biggest concern cited is that young people are not being prepared for the future. This concern, of course, is rightly placed, particularly given academic achievement woes. If students are in class and their academic performance is stagnate or negatively impacted, absenteeism may not seem to be a big deal. There is also the argument, though, that poor academic achievement can’t begin to be addressed if students aren’t coming to class in the first place.

Chronic Absenteeism Not Cited as Major Concern

Source: NPR

Chronic absenteeism is when a student misses 10 percent or more of the school year, or about two days a month. More than half of parent respondents (51 percent) defined chronic absenteeism as missing 20 percent or more of school, according to the NPR/Ipsos poll. A plurality of general population respondents (45 percent) also thought chronic absenteeism is missing 20 percent or more of school.

“Educators have long been aware that missing 15, 20 days a year or more creates serious learning setbacks and puts students at a greater risk of dropping out,” reports NPR. “A student only has to miss two days of school a month to end up chronically absent, so parents often don’t see it happening.”

Only six percent of parents surveyed identified their child as chronically absent, “but the numbers nationwide show a disconnect,” continues NPR. While chronic absenteeism is not a new problem, the elevated rates of students chronically absent during COVID/school closures haven’t declined much.

In spring 2017, Minnesota’s chronic absenteeism rate was at 13 percent. Not the lowest among the states, but the same as the nationwide rate. It ticked up to 14 percent in 2018, held steady at 14 percent in 2019, inched up to 15 percent in 2020, and by spring 2021 was at 17 percent.

As of spring 2022 data, the most recently available for a report on the topic by Nat Malkus with the American Enterprise Institute, the state’s chronic absenteeism rate skyrocketed to 30 percent — a 17 percentage point increase, with the rate more than doubling over a six-year period. This means that almost one third of Minnesota students were missing 10 percent or more of the 2021-2022 school year, or more than three and a half weeks of learning.

In the Minneapolis school district, the chronic absenteeism rate was 54 percent in 2022 (up from 21 percent in 2019). Even more affluent school districts experienced spikes — Minnetonka went from a 16 percent chronic absenteeism rate in 2019 to 36 percent in 2022, Prior Lake-Savage from 11 percent to 20 percent, Edina from 9 percent to 17 percent, Wayzata from 8 percent to 24 percent.

According to education professor Thomas Dee at Stanford University, “one very prominent explanation here that meets the evidence is that during the pandemic many children and parents simply began to see less value in regular school attendance.”

One way to try and tackle attendance disparities is for school leaders to consider setting, or resetting, “high expectations for the school community,” suggests Malkus.