The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

What is Chronic Absenteeism, and What Should Schools Do About It?

on October 25, 2017

As I continue my reading of school problems “Chronic Absenteeism” seems to be the major one right now.  I can’t help wondering if our kids are all going bad at once or many of our schools  are becoming intolerable.


While brushing my teeth this morning it occurred to me that today is my 14th day of having a bad cold. Although I’m feeling better than I did a week ago—maybe because I’m now taking a medication—I’m still not operating on all cylinders. What if I were a young person who was supposed to be at school?

Well, that’s not likely, because my colds cleared up much quicker when I was a kid. But my situation made me think about school absenteeism, which seems to be a major issue for public schools all over the country these days. Among the ESSA plans submitted by all states this year, 36 of them and the District of Columbia included the goal of reducing student absenteeism drastically. Although there is no research that tells us how much absenteeism is the tipping point for any student, most states have selected 10 % of the school year as the number that is the one after which a student is likely to fall behind in his work and fail one or more classes. They have labeled this number as “chronic absenteeism” and introduced various school actions to get students to school more regularly.

In case you’ve forgotten how to figure out percentages, my calculator says that 10% of the usual school year (180 days) is 18 days. So chronic absenteeism may now be diagnosed in students who are absent for a day or two in some months and those who are absent for long periods of time. In my opinion some students’ patterns of absences  affect their learning  negatively and others’ patterns not at all.

For those reasons I think that the best approach for a school is to have one or more officials–depending on school size– to keep track of student absences and meet with those students who appear to have problems. The official would also contact parents to find out what is causing the absences and if there is any way to reduce them.

Beyond those actions, any school that feels it has an absenteeism epidemic should look internally to see where it might be making school too difficult, unappealing, or even unbearable for many students; then work to make some positive changes.  Such changes could be reducing bullying, providing a wider range of classes for students to chose from, or introducing more social activities. When there is an epidemic of absenteeism in a school it is not only students that need to be healed, but also the school.

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