Chronic Absenteeism by Income, Ethnicity and City

A national report by the nonprofit Attendance Works zooms in on a statistic called “chronic absenteeism,” generally defined as the number of kids who miss at least 10 percent (18) of school days over the course of a year. Chronic absenteeism focuses on the specific kids who are regularly missing instructional time, regardless of the reason why or the overall performance of the school.

If you miss more than 10 percent of school days, your odds of scoring well on tests, graduating high school, and attending college are significantly lower. A statewide study in Utah, for example, found that kids who were chronically absent for a year between 8th and 12th grades were more than seven times more likely to drop out. The pattern starts early in the year: A 2013 Baltimore study found that half of the students who missed two to four days of school in September went on to be chronically absent.

Oddly enough, the federal government doesn’t track absenteeism. Seventeen states do, states have found that school attendance often falls on socioeconomic lines: In Maryland, nearly a third of high school students who receive free or reduced lunch are chronically absent.

The Attendance Works study, which used missing three days per month as a proxy for the 10 percent threshold, categorized students missing school by location, race, and socioeconomic status. Here’s what they found:

The good news is that citywide studies in New York City] and  Chicago show that when chronically absent kids start coming to school more, they can make substantial academic gains. And the simple act of tracking and prioritizing absenteeism can lead to statewide progress: When Hawaii started keeping track of chronic absenteeism in 2012, the state went from having a chronic absentee rate of 18 to 11 percent over the course of a single year.

By School Lunch: Who’s Missing School?

Percentage of students missing three or more days of school in one month, divided by eligibility for free or reduced-price school lunch;

4th Grade Eligible = 22%, Ineligible = 17%

8th Grade Eligible = 23%, Ineligible = 16%

By Race: Who’s Missing School?

Percentage of students missing three or more days of school in one month

American Indian = 29%

Black = 22%

Hispanic = 20%

White = 19%

Asian = 13%

By City: Who’s Missing School?

Percentage of students in major cities missing three or more days of school in one month 8th Grade

Detroit = 33%

Cleveland = 30%

Washington, D.C. = 28%

Milwaukee = 28%

Baltimore = 24%

Charlotte =24%

Fresno = 24%

Philadelphia + 24%

Albuquerque = 23%

Atlanta + 23%

New York City = 22%

Boston = 21%

Dallas = 21%

San Diego = 21%

Austin = 20%

Los Angeles = 19 %

Houston = 18%

Chicago = 16%

Miami/Dade = 16%

With chronic absenteeism accounting for 1 out of 5 students, we need to ask why are students missing school? Is it illness? Do parents need older siblings to watch younger siblings? Is it difficulty to get to school because of lack of transportation? Do schools contribute to the problem by labeling absences as “excused” or “non-excused”? (An absence is an absence). Are students truants because of fear of being bullied?