The Dramatic Effects of Chronic Absenteeism

You have to be in school to do well in school. This is the primary takeaway from the recently released report, titled "The Importance of Being There: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation's Public Schools," authored by Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes. Balfanz and Byrnes estimate that between 5 and 7.5 million students are not attending school regularly. This means up to 7.5 million students miss ten percent or more of the school year or missed over a month of school days during the previous school year.
The data collected in this report shows that one group in particular is more vulnerable to becoming chronically absent. While gender and location did not play substantial roles in the rates of chronic absenteeism, poverty impacted chronic absenteeism more than any other characteristic. Not only are children living in poverty the most likely students to become chronically absent, but those are also the children who benefit most from education, as education is one of the most effective strategies to provide a path out of poverty.

It’s important to determine those students who are chronically absent early in their academic careers because early absenteeism often sets the stage for continued absences throughout middle and high school. In addition, middle school achievement is directly related to high school graduation rates.
The effects of chronic absenteeism on future academic performance are clear. However, the correlation between poor education and time spent in the justice system is also evident. It’s called the "school-to-prison pipeline". A poor K-12 education, especially with substantial missed classroom time, can put a child on a path to prison.
It’s difficult to determine exactly how widespread the problem of chronic absenteeism is across the United States partly because it is not required for states or school districts to measure it. While states are required to report daily attendance, and some states do measure excessive absences to different degrees, it’s not easy to determine which students are missing the most school. For example, “A school can have average daily attendance of 90 percent and still have 40 percent of its students chronically absent, because on different days, different students make up that 90 percent”, explains the report.
The report concludes by making recommendations about how to treat this under acknowledged problem of chronic absenteeism and the effects that it has on school children of all ages. The first and arguably the most important recommendation is that the federal government must require states to report excessive absences to determine exactly which children are at risk. Only after the specific students who are chronically absent are realized will school officials be capable of treating the problems contributing to their truancy.  

Melany Boulton is a digital communications intern at Prichard Communications, where she assists on several accounts, including Reclaiming Futures. She is a recent graduate from the University of Oregon with a degree in public relations and a minor in business administration.
*Photo at top by Flickr user -- Chris Schuster -- 

Updated: August 03 2012