Some time before schools had shut their doors on the 2015-16 school year, the U.S. Department of Education’s 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2016 update reported that over 6.5 million kids had been “chronically absent.” In other words, they missed 15 or more days of school, translating to some 13% of all students nationwide.
And of those more than 6.5 million kids …
- More 3.5 million were in elementary school—or 11% of the total.
- 10% were kindergartners and first graders, and, in some cases, their numbers hit 25%.
- More than 3 million were high schoolers, representing 18% of the total.
Even our very youngest are missing out. In Chicago, for instance, almost 50% of 3-year-olds and more than 33% of 4-year-olds missed school 15 or more days last year.
As to the why, the underlying factors include:
- Physical health and such conditions as asthma, obesity, and chronic pain
- Mental health issues including anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, and depression
- Perceptions of the school culture, including feeling unsupported or disrespected by teachers and/or being bullied by peers
- Parent/family situations, such as single parents, parental unemployment, and socioeconomic status
- Homelessness: Just 77% of such children attend school regularly
- Placement in such protective services as foster care
- School conditions and climate, including its heating/cooling and ventilation systems and structural integrity
- Relationships with teachers and administrators
- Academic engagement and achievement
At the same time, less than 50% of our public schools have a full-time nurse, and in some poor, urban settings, there’s just one nurse for every 4,000 students.
Now add in the fact that about 850,000 of our high schools don’t have even one guidance counselor. And, as Nathan Collins in a ScienceDirect article reminds us, “School counselors do a lot more than help kids figure out what classes to take. Their primary role, in fact, is to help students work through behavioral problems, mental health concerns, and other issues that might hamper kids’ success in school and in life.”
- 1.6 million kids attend schools boasting a sworn law-enforcement officer, at a median annual salary of $55,010.
- Over $10 billion is spent on technology annually and yet says Rob Mancabelli, co-founder and CEO of BrightBytes,“…The majority of it does not benefit learning outcomes.”
Then there are these disturbing stats:
- In 2014, more than 45 million Americans live below the poverty line—15% of us; for blacks, that figure stands at 26% and Hispanics, 24%.
- As of January, 2015, 564,708 Americans were classified as homeless—sleeping outside, in a shelter, or transitional housing program.
- As of May, 2016, the official unemployment rate (U-3) stood at 4.7%, but the official U-6 rate, which represents the “Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force,” hit 9.7%.
And, although far from the whole story, these factors certainly contribute to the 6.5 million kids not showing up regularly for school every day, and thus putting themselves at risk for:
- Lower math and reading scores right from the start
- Weaker social and emotional development
- Lost learning time
- Failing grades
- High dropout rate
- Lower odds of going to college
- As for the federal government’s response?
Parroting his predecessor Arne Duncan’s, “Great teachers matter, great principals matter, but they can’t work their magic if our babies aren’t in school,” our current U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. stated, “Even the best teachers can’t be successful with students who aren’t in class.”
And those folks have been saying as much all along, as typically between 5 and 7.5 million kids miss 15 or more days of school annually.
Thus, in October 2015, Obama launched the “Every Student, Every Day: A National Initiative to Address & Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism,” providing:
- A Community Toolkit to help schools tackle the problem, complete with “action steps” and a list of evidence-based resources, etc.
- The National Mentoring Partnership using “a data-driven, evidence-based mentoring model” to target chronically absent students in high-need communities.
- A public awareness campaign headed by the Ad Council and the U.S. Education Department
The follow-up: In February, 2016, the White House and Secretary King announced two more campaigns to combat chronic absenteeism:
- The Success Mentors Initiative under the Obama My Brother’s Keeper umbrella. Its focus to get school staff monitoring attendance, providing support in ten urban districts, including Boston and New York. Its intent is to connect caring, school-linked adults, such as teachers, coaches, and security guards with students, meeting with them three times a week to promote regular attendance. As it stands, 6th and 9th graders are the first being served–some 250,000 over the next two years; during the next three to five years, those in all grades—about one million students—will be taken into account.
- “Absences Add Up,” a multi-million dollar, public relations campaign, helping to draw the attention to the problem and empower parents of elementary and middle grade students with information and resources promoting attendance. It also features a website, “absence trackers,” and other online tools for them.
So there you go…