Frequently Missing School Causes Long-Term Problems


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A new analysis of federal data details the serious and widespread problem of chronic absenteeism in public schools. It has long been a belief that skipping one or two days of school in a month has little impact on a student’s academic success has been proven statically incorrect.

According to the new study entitled “Preventing Missed Opportunity,” missing just two days in a month can “expose kids to a cascade of academic setbacks,” ranging from lower reading and math scores in third grade to higher risks of dropping out of high school.

The data studied showed that the problem of chronic absenteeism was both widespread and concentrated. More than 6 million students were found to be chronically absent and half attended just 4% of the nation’s school districts and only 12% of the nation’s schools.

The districts with high levels of chronic absenteeism were found to be located in diverse number of settings, from large urban centers and affluent suburbs to small post-industrial towns and rural enclaves. Pinpointing the students who miss school is the most crucial point in stemming the tide of this epidemic.

“Is the issue that kids are coming to class but they’re not learning, or is the issue that there’s so much chronic absence that kids are missing out on the instruction, and not learning?” asked Hedy Chang, a co-author of the report and the director of the advocacy group Attendance Works.

This problem is an important one to the Latino population. Even as the numbers of Latinos rise in the country and in public school attendance, education equity remains a key issue for them. Latinos represent the second largest group of elementary education students. In 2012, Latinos represented almost 25% of children 5-14 years of age in the U.S., while Whites represented 53%, African Americans 14%, and Asians 5%.

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The new report additionally determined that nearly nine in 10 districts reported chronically absent students, based on data from the 2013-14 school year. This is a figure that some experts believe is an “under count.” The report defines chronic absenteeism as missing at least 15 school days each year, which is roughly 10% of the academic calendar.

“We have to know where we have to go to find these kids who are chronically absent, and tailor our approach to the situation,” said Robert Balfanz, the other co-author of the report and the director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. “A big benefit of this report is it helps us understand the contours of chronic absenteeism.”

In the Philadelphia (13% Latino population) school district, over 35% of the system’s 144,000 are chronically absent. Among high-school students, the figure rose dramatically to 51%. The districts in Baltimore (4.5%) and Milwaukee (17.7%) reported similar absentee number. For Cleveland (10%) and Detroit (7.3%), the chronic absenteeism rates were staggeringly near 50%, and more than 60% of Cleveland’s high-schoolers missed more than three weeks of school a year.

According to Excelencia in Education, by 2060, Latinos are projected to represent more than 1/3 of all U.S. children. Of the total population under the age of 14, Latinos will represent 38%, compared to Whites (33%), African Americans (13%), and Asians (7%).

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