Chronic absenteeism: Alaska students take second



Alaska goes big when it comes to school nonattendance.

While the national average of chronic school absenteeism was 13 percent in the 2013-14 school year, Alaska took second place, with 23 percent of students missing 15 days or more of school. Only Washington state did worse, with 25 percent.

The figures come out of the US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection survey of all public schools and districts in the country, released this week.  Some 95,000 public schools are part of that survey, in which absenteeism is more of a footnote. The main focus is on equity between rich andpoor, black and white.

Chronically absent is defined as missing 15 or more days during the school year.

The figures from the federal agency can’t be fully contrasted with those reported by the Alaska Department of Education, which show overall high attendance; Alaska’s report does not single out chronic absenteeism.

American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander elementary school students are twice as likely to be chronically absent as white elementary school students, the national report notes.

Fairbanks toyed with the idea of fining parents whose children were chronically absent. Anchorage made a similar effort, as have other districts across the country. In 2011, a Nome district attorney filed charges against several parents from the villages of Wales and Shishmaref for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, due to the fact their children had too many unexcused absences.

This is a problem the government can identify, but the government is not particularly equipped to fix. It’s a family problem. It’s a societal breakdown problem. It’s a cultural problem. If government could truly solve it, then Washington, D.C. would not rank the worst in the nation for chronic absenteeism — at more than 30 percent. Right  under the nose of the U.S. Department of Education.