The Importance of Being in School: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation’s Public Schools

Over the past few years, much has been made of students’ “time in learning”—whether more time on task while in class, extended school days, or more days in school each year. Yet little attention has been paid to chronic absenteeism—missing more than 10 percent of a year’s school days—mainly because few states track these data. Instead, most states report average daily attendance, which can mask high levels of chronic absenteeism. This exploratory study parses attendance data from six states (FL, GA, MD, NE, OR, and RI) and finds that, on average, 14 percent of students are chronically absent. To put this in perspective, if extrapolated to the national student population, the U.S would have more chronically absent students than charter school students.

In addition, this report offers information about who is most likely to miss class. The researchers found that low-income students are most likely to miss a lot of school, as are the youngest and oldest students. High-poverty urban areas see up to a third of their students miss 10 percent or more of their courses each year. Absenteeism is also a problem in rural poor locations. But neither gender nor ethnicity appears to play a role in chronic absenteeism.

In Ohio, as discussed in Building a Grad Nation, we need to do a much better job at tracking and solving the problem of chronic absenteeism. Although there are a couple of programs that are implemented at individual schools, Ohio has no state-wide absentee-reduction program. One school that has initiated an absentee-reduction program is Hamilton Township High School, which started pairing administrators with struggling students to reduce the risk of absenteeism and possibly dropout. In a more controversial policy, Dohn Community High School in Cincinnati paid seniors $25 and underclassmen $10 per week to arrive to school on time, behave, and do work. More examples of what other states are doing to combat chronic absenteeism can be found here

The Importance of Being in School: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation’s Public Schools
Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes
Johns Hopkins University, Center for Social Organization of Schools
May 2012

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