Public schools across America are rife with issues. Violence is up, grades are down, and teachers are quitting the profession left and right. Still, every once in a while, the state of public education shows a glimpse of hope for the failing system. This time, that centers around school attendance. While most of this year, districts reported a major concern with chronic absenteeism, a new report signals headway with the problem, showing that school attendance is now trending upwards.
EdSource reported the good news earlier this week. According to a recent study conducted by Attendance Works, an advocacy group that works to keep children in school, the majority of all states have improved their records on student attendance. The study looked at school attendance rates for 45 states plus the District of Columbia (Washington, DC).
These findings come at a vital time for school officials who have been deeply concerned about the uptick in cases of chronic absenteeism from students. These cases were already trending upwards before the onset of the pandemic, but the frequency and amount of students marked absent was greatly exacerbated after COVID disrupted school. Making waves in school attendance rates, chronic absence reports in public schools more than doubled after 2019.
School attendance issues have been found across all public school districts in the nation, big and small. Major cities like New York and LA felt the constraint thoroughly, where about 40% of all students were reported chronically absent. In some districts across the state of Washington, districts reported that half of all students were regularly missing classes this year. Even fully-virtual schools had the same issues. In Detroit, school leaders made changes to prerequisites for children to attend the virtual academy, after so many students were chronically absent this year.
So why the sudden reversal in this school attendance trend? There is no clear answer as of now, but the research made note of some key findings that may be driving this upwards shift. To start, nearly all states who participated now report they are once again taking daily attendance. This is a significant increase from last year when many were not tracking it. When schools are not known to keep track of attendance, students, and even parents, are less likely to worry about sending their children to school regularly.
Furthermore, the study found that more states this year were offering multiple modes of learning. While many districts remained completely remote last school year, the majority of the states now report that they offered both in-person, fully virtual, and short-term distance learning for students. Giving families more options likely helped schools keep better track of students.
At a time when more and more families are turning away from the public school system, good news on school attendance will likely be hailed as a positive step forward in the war on education. But it is far from enough to prove to leary families that the massive learning loss and overall disapproval for public education are making strides. Data may now show that more students are getting back to the classrooms, but fall and the next school year are just around the corner, and anything can happen next year.