Report: Chronic truancy at 28%, now a national crisis in public schools

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By BETHANY BLANKLEY | THE CENTER SQUARE

It’s not just Alaska students skipping class, egged on by union representatives of the education industry. A record number of students are skipping school, propelling chronic absenteeism to a national crisis, according to an analysis of public-school attendance data.

The analysis comes as public school districts nationwide are laying off teachers, citing high inflationary costs, budget deficits, and spending decisions related to federal COVID-era funding, which is running out after schools received windfalls in federal subsidies for three years.

Chronic absenteeism – the percentage of students who missed at least 10% of a school year – surged from 15% of students in 2018 to 28% in 2022, according to an American Enterprise Institute analysis, “Long COVID for Public Schools: Chronic Absenteeism Before and After the Pandemic.”

The analysis relies on AEI’s “Return to Learn Tracker Chronic Absenteeism Data Collection,” which it claims is “the most comprehensive and current data collection on pandemic and post-pandemic chronic absenteeism.” The tracker was created by Nat Malkus, senior fellow and deputy director of AEI’s Education Policy Studies, who is also the author of the report. Malksus collected weekly data on the remote-learning status of 8,600 school districts that collectively educated 89% of public-school students. Not all states reported data by the time of the report’s 2024 publication.

During the 2021–2022 school year, 28% of students were chronically absent, an increase of roughly 89% over pre-pandemic rates, his analysis found.

Although chronic absenteeism fell in 33 of 39 states reporting data since 2022, his analysis found that it remained 75% higher in 2023 than “the pre-pandemic baseline.”

“Chronic absenteeism increased for all district types, but rates were highest in districts with low achievement and higher poverty, affecting over one in three students,” Malkus says. 

Current chronic absenteeism is “the most pressing post-pandemic problem in public schools,” Malksus argues, and is anticipated to “severely hamper” any improvements to COVID-era learning losses. Extended school closures, preventing in-person instruction, and remote learning programs caused historic and decades of learning losses for grade school students, The Center Square has reported.

“Unfortunately, nearly four years after the start of the pandemic, chronic absenteeism rates indicate that the ‘Return to Learn’ name is still apt,” Malkus said. “Even though nearly every school returned to in-person instruction over two years ago, many students have not fully returned to school in earnest.”

A New York Times analysis of the data found that “The trends suggest that something fundamental has shifted in American childhood and the culture of school, in ways that may be long lasting. What was once a deeply ingrained habit – wake up, catch the bus, report to class – is now something far more tenuous.”

The Times report points to parental relationships disintegrating with school boards as one reason for chronic absenteeism.

“The habit of daily attendance – and many families’ trust – was severed when schools shuttered in spring 2020,” the Times states. “Even after schools reopened, things hardly snapped back to normal.”

Several reports have pointed to parents pulling their children out of public school nationwide ,citing destructive lockdown policies, including mask mandates, as well as other problems leading to learning losses. Others have pointed to the FBI being weaponized against parents for raising issues with school boards, leading to congressional investigations.

26 COMMENTS

  1. So, answer me this; why do the schools need so much more money to teach fewer students? And to fund a failing education system. If it’s to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, good. If it’s for woke, alphabet soup and DEI, cancel every last penny.
    What’s with the teachers in Juneau taking students out of class, taking them to the state capital and showing them how to protest and disrupt the activity at the state capital? Using students as pawns!!! Since when did protesting become a required class? Every teacher who took part in that absurd stunt should be fired NOW!!!!

    • Dennis–no teacher in Juneau took students out of class, or walked with them up to the Capitol, or showed them how to protest. The student protests were organized by students through student governance organizations statewide.

      • And of course not a single teacher had any influence at all. Right? Wrong. The disconnect with reality did not happen in a vacuum. Teachers instilled, parents too busy. Minimal actual history, government or civics taught. Without a doubt there was ‘coaching’

        Fact —— Alaska schools have one of the highest per student revenue in the nation. Fact – Alaska is at the bottom in performance. For decades boatloads of money has been dumped into schools. Performance has been on downward slide. There needs to be change. Not a penny should be allotted until there is a plan for effectual change. School choice, charter schools, home education. Expectations and consequences. Get rid of the detritus (DEI, identity idiocy, degenerative ‘health’ ed) as well as the social engineering and political agenda. Allow teacher to teach and the ones using the classroom to further communism and Marxism beyond just teaching as a subject, should be fired.

      • You would have to prove that to me. In the pictures there adults with the students clapping and smiling. Who gave the students directions on where to go and what to do? Is the school administration teaching classes on protests now? What are student governance organizations and who are the teachers? And where are they taught? Is this like a boy scout or girl scout organization? OOPs. Can I say that?

      • My dear SA. I fear your are greatly misinformed about the facts of life or simply choosing to ignore the realities of modern politics.

  2. The children are being taught all the wrong things about personal behavior. Not just by the liberal leftist teachers but by their “parents”. These are the same kids that grow up and can’t keep a good job in the real world.

  3. Parents got a letter from Chugach Elementary principal writing that I never missed a day of school in the year 1969 as a 3rd grader., Perfect Attendance.

  4. Well, the education industrial complex taught them during Covid physical attendance didn’t matter.

    God knows for many they aren’t gonna get dumber.

  5. School is an opportunity, and one of the great merits of America is equality of opportunity. “Opportunity Abounds” used to be the sign above the door entering Dutch Harbor. America offers opportunity for all, but does not guarantee outcomes. If children, often driven by parents, squander the greatest opportunity for successful prosperous life, an education, sorry ’bout that but not my problem. If they will not attend overpriced schools paid for by the labors of others, then they will often spend lives in overpriced prisons also paid for by productive people. “For you have the poor always with you,” Jesus said, and many of us will continue to help them as we can, but it is usually they who determine their own destiny. “Opportunity Abounds” and is free of charge to all.

  6. Many homes now don’t have parents, or one defective parent. No one is waking up the kids and getting them out the door to school, or to the bus stop to ride in Kamala’s yellow buses. Many have lost confidence in public schools and have gone elsewhere for education.

  7. School topics and classes are so bad the kids don’t want to learn this curriculum. They are learning more by staying away.

  8. What a time to be young! Just as our grand and great-grand parents and their parents too talked of wars and revolutions and of the marvels of science and technology, the young of today will be able to recall the time civility and justice gasped for air and when their neighbors turned savage. If you think I’m bullshitting, take a look at us and who we’ve become: we’re a quick step behind the brutes!

  9. Huh, weird it’s almost like keeping them home for almost two years made them not care about going to school anymore.
    Nah…just a coincidence.

  10. Possibly, a lot more kids (and their parents) have finally decided to opt out of Leftist Indoctrination Camp.

  11. Interesting topic, good discussion here. I suspect there are quite a few reasons for the truancy across our state. I do know that my son has received a truancy concern letter from the principal every year of his schooling simply for the days we miss hunting, fishing, and for sports. It’s always rubbed me wrong because he’s a good student and always had his work turned in on time or early… until he got to high school. Then something interesting happened. We parents want to trust our kids, that they are doing the work they say they are doing. Next thing we know, their grades are slipping. Why? Missing assignments. The answer from the kid? Well, the teachers let us turn things in late for partial credit. Me, WTF? Kid, shrugs. Here’s the reality – we’re slipping, everywhere, just a little here and a little there. Parents aren’t holding their kids to high standards anymore, teachers aren’t holding students to high standards anymore, and administrators aren’t holding teachers to high standards anymore. Governor Dunleavy is trying to change this, yet he’s being relentlessly attacked from the educational lobby. We must support the leaders that want to support us. The glimmer of hope is that we as parents and as a society are waking up. We need to start correcting this one student, one teacher, one principal, one district, one state at a time. Not every school teaches DEI crap, so move on from that mantra. Society has broadened through smart phones to something none of us could have imagined as kids. Be a good parent. Be a good influence on your neighbors and coworkers that are parents. Spend time in the schools, volunteer, talk with your school administrators and teachers. Go to school board meetings. We all have to be vigilant. We all have to do better. Being a keyboard warrior isn’t enough.

    • Good comment. The school board meetings are absolutely lacking participation…unless there is a hot topic. I remember when that “partial credit” for late work was being implemented. It is not a good policy and does not teach the kids good work ethics or a sense of responbility.

  12. Are the Alaska school districts required to reduce their annual student head counts by their absenteeism rates? Shouldn’t the per-capita funding from the state reflect actual attendance?

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