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Why are so many kids missing school?


Nearly four years after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and years after school reopenings, schools still face a major challenge: Students aren’t showing up. An estimated 14.7 million students didn’t show up regularly in the 2022-23 school year and were “chronically absent.” As data rolls out, states are realizing that they can’t address chronic absences without strategic plans to target it. Today on The Weeds, Vox reporter Fabiola Cineas explores what chronic absenteeism is, how it affects children's learning in both the short and long term, and what strategies have a proven track record of getting kids back to school. 

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this weekend unexplainable the deepest darkest mountains in the world, follow unexplainable for new episodes every wednesday. It's the weeds, I'm Fabio Sidious, reporter at fox sitting in this week for jonquil and health growing up. I was a student, lithium packable attendance record: I live one block away from my school, so getting there every day was super easy school is a place I wanted to be, and I love seeing my friends and teachers plus the perfect attendance certificate at the end of the year was pretty fun too, but when I became a teacher years later, my outlook independence completely changed. My middle school students face barriers that I never had to consider like family obligations
abilities and chronic health conditions. It became clear to me that at since records should it be used as a way to label students as good or bad enter a global pandemic and an unprecedented youth, mental health crisis and the conversation about students missing school is, unlike anything, I've ever seen. American kids have now disappeared from school, entirely absent, tooth absenteeism has rocketed and also among some merit, not austrian. Some return classroom boys do agitation policy. Experts say we are in a crisis absenteeism. His own has been a problem, but situation has gotten worse the pen, I has induced a dramatic increase in absences. We're talking. Fourteen point: seven million students who are chronically absent up from eight million students before the pandemic. Today,
weeds we dive into chronic absenteeism will explore Zactly, what it means and why so many students are missing so much school students in schools aren't outright doomed. Some states are starting to see improvement. Connecticut is one of them. Attendance is at the heart of every thing: that's corey, Sullivan, custer she's, an education consultant for tenants and engagement at the
netiquette state department of education, whether or not tunes filling they belong in the community, whether or not their learning and school. The connections they have with the teacher but missing all that time from school has really impacted their tasks. Assessments such and so is more important than ever to be back a school. I asked Corey what connecticut was experiencing prior to the pandemic. What we were saying before the pandemic were high levels of chronic absence for students with high needs students. A high needs is a group of students who has special education, who am I e peas, english learners or free lunch students and those students tend to have higher chronic absence connecticut spent publishing data for a number of years. It's a. We were one of the first states to have a statute with the death
mission of chronic absence and also chronic absences, one were accountability measures, and so we watch our data closely and we work with districts around. Where are your pockets of high levels of chronic absence? Is it a certain great? Is it certain? Students is as certain neighborhood, because the students have to walk to school in this ban bad weather? Those there's some of the things that we are seeing at the local level is really true. Identify what are the root causes and barriers to attend it. Can you talk about what's been driving these absences specifically since the pandemic began. This summer, connecticut, say to of education conducted a survey of families, and we got a thousand four hundred families responded, we were like wow and there was an english and spanish that we had responses from both some.
Major like themes were illness and chronic illnesses, asthma covered allergies, all that respiratory stuff they all had at the same time as our s knee the flu covered. Parents really work clear about when to send their kids to school and they opted to to keep them home? In many cases, some mental health in anxiety, kids, wonder break to take a mental health day. You know they fell, overwhelms kids, her kind of gotten so not having to go to school every day is a lot of parents stay home for work to, and so we kind of fell out of that. I'm habit and practice of get up, get ready and go, and so just getting everybody to come back has been part of the challenge. So we know chronic absenteeism didn't start with the pandemic. Experts have been tracking it for more than a decade.
I called one of them to learn. More broadly defined. Chronic absenteeism is missing, so my school did. It student is academically at risk. That's hetty, Chang she's, the founder and executive director of attendant works. We help to create a more com, by way of defining at which is missing, ten percent or more of school over the course of an entire school year. That's about eighteen days, but when it one month of schools just two days for days in the second month six days in the third month, and what we want people to think about is to include all out since it is it's not just excused, absences are unexpressed, absent, since our suspensions? It's all three of those things because of a student isn't in the classroom to benefit from the learning or the engagement. Fraternities, then that can be a challenge.
So how did you all land on ten percent as being the best metric to define what chronic absenteeism is this work started wooden. Roused me, then, the senior vice president for the allocation of funding and asked me to figure out whether, if kids miss too much school in the early grades, it made them less likely to read by the end of the great and as part of that work, we ended up trying to figure out, wasn't any data that could show that fact, and it turned out actual, wasn't much most people, the truth he would only unexpressed absences most people, the average daily tenants, but we found one national data base called the early childhood longitudinal study, and we could use data to look at how many These kids were missing, they tracked academic measures and they had a cohort of kids. You could all of them at that time, from ten grand fifth grade until we partnered with colombia universe.
Who did an analysis of the data and what they found was when kids missed two percent or more of the school year in kindergarten started. predicting lower literacy and third and lower literacy and fifth grade? There is play some research that shows there is an impact of attendance, even at lower levels of absenteeism missing only five percent of the school year. But what you don't want to do is have you will cry wolf if a kid just mrs one day of school? That's not necessarily a big deal, so you don't want to have people having to overreact to one day of school. If you say ten percent its two days and at the end of the first two months, it's four days, that's really a pattern that people can look at and we have since and also found research that This was done in baltimore that found kids miss ten percent or more in the first month of school, were more likely to be chronically
and for the remainder of the year. So what we were trying to get up was a measure that predicted academic challenge but is also a common sense metric. that people can use to note, early on when they can take action and prevent a child from becoming chronically laughed for the entire school year. So I think if we were to ask the average at all about absences, I think people say it's obvious, that sing instructional time puts children at a disadvantage, academically so what's different about chronic since he is, and what more do we know about the effects of chronic absenteeism that should really make people be like both. This is different than just oh, they miss school, so there there a little bit behind on homework or or coursework. Well. What I think is that people don't realize how easily absences can and just two days a month and they're, not always consecutive days, I mean what we think about when we say what, It's my school. We think about the kid who missed a week of school or based too
school and now I'm worried about it. What they're not always think about the kid is, mrs, why they hear and another day here and then by end of the year, you ve added after so much time lost in the classroom that you're actually academically lit brisk and because of the research that happened over the last fifteen years. We know the chronic gaps in starting in pre came K. Can action, predict lower readiness, when you're innkeeper garden less likely to read more cal provisionally by third grade later suspend since a middle school, lower achievement and middle school and dropping out of high school there's. Even some evidence suggests that, even in the kids somehow managed in high school to pass their classes even with being chronically after that chronic athens predicted being less likely to go onto to post secondary school and continue into college. That's fascinating vacillating and I do want to bring up an example of a co worker of ours will we're talking on slack at work, and he said
also, you know some report about chronic absenteeism he's like they're just blowing this out of proportion like, and I was like- no I've, I've seen the numbers. This seems like something to be concerned about, and then he kind of gave his personal apple he's, like yeah. Might my daughter, his daughters, maybe in second grade and whose, like she's, got and sick? If I get some kind of hand and mouth and he is like shit, she's, already labelled chronically absent, so it felt personal for him and its felt, like chronic absence, was like a negative label that here sad to see, but he was like my dad I was sick. So I think there's a couple things weird speaking to what I think I'm most don't want? I don't want it to be a negative label. I want it to be a sign that someone needs to outreach and check with a family to see, if everything's, ok and to see if they need additional support, on one hand, I do think you know kids get sick and they can miss a lot of school, but
usually that doesn't continue over the course of an entire school year, but if we could use it for positive outrage, so it's not to label a kid. Let's say you missed five days in the month of september, doesn't mean you can't come back from them But I think it's worth someone reaching out to the family and send hey everything. Ok do need any support, and Helping make sure that the kid mrs a few days as possible for the remainder of the air tat how this should be used. The other thing I do want to say that that's very challenging about this is that and we ve seen huge numbers in terms of the increase, so chronic absence went from about sixteen percent of kids in the country to almost thirty percent, but it's not just the thirty percent of kids who are chronically absent. That can be affected by chronic absence. When you have high levels of chronic absence, let's say twenty percent or more of it
in a school that means at least twenty percent of the kids in that school are missing at least two days a month. Ok, it's out like they all. on the same day as they're gone different days so teacher may have gone almost every day of the week and then their faced with challenges. Do I repeat the class for everyone who is there? Do I asked other kids to help out, but then they miss out on moving forward. Any just makes teaching and learning much more challenging and before the pandemic about twenty five percent all kids in the country were in a school with twenty percent or more levels of krajina gaps it since the pandemic. That has shifted to sixty six, almost sixty six percent of orchids, two thirds of all kids in a school where you have
a level of chronic absence than its affecting the learning and also it makes it harder for teachers to teach its caused by lots of factors. But we have to react. Status a routine of showing up to school every day so that our teachers can teach and all the students in a school can learn. And that means both addressing those barriers, transportation, unstable housing, unsafe pass, get all those things get make it difficult getting ill, but you should actually prevent dollars related out, and you know, as well as making sure that kids aren't showing up the school. It's not because there feeling unwelcoming, disengage, kazakh and also very much contribute to kids, not showing up regulated scope,
so we ve got a sense of the scale of chronic absenteeism. Next will get into how it affects students of all demographic backgrounds from the cities to the sun. Herbs and explore the barriers keeping them from the classroom, support for the weeds, It's from borough hosting a dinner party isn't just a way to trick your friends into bringing the freeway to your place. It's also an opportunity to reconnect with the people. You love in the comfort of your own, How and borough makes furniture that can help make that comfort even more comfortable, those new dining collection has everything you need to elevate. Your hosting game built the same exacting standards as the rest of their hell august their pieces are quietly stylish and made to last with material selected for their durability and timeless looks their sheriff dining table blends, classic midcentury, modern design, but the clever hidden.
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They know that you heard about give well from the weeds to get your donation matched again. That's give well dot org to donate or find out more and we're back. It's the weeds, I'm fabulous eneas sitting in this week for jacqueline harry chink says we're in a chronic absenteeism crisis that it was wrong to assume everything would go back to normal once schools reopened. I think a lot of people thought that Once we reopen schools, things would just go back to normal. We open schools and you're, seeing these extraordinary levels of chronic captain in twenty one. Twenty two, the data from twenty to twenty three suggests that we're fooling ourselves cells. If we think it's just gonna automatically get back to normal, we actually need intentional strategies of reengage minutes
support for forgets families. You really have to have an intentional strategy to get a handle This situation has once you have we percent or more of your kids chronically absent, you can't just say: oh, I have a social worker and she'll figure it out or he'll figure it out. You actually have to have a whole school approach to how you're going to support those students and how you're going to have every teacher every staff member every engaging students and helping make sure that if they can notice kids are gone. They can find out what are the barriers and helping to make sure they kids can and family connected to the resources they need. So, let's get into some of those numbers and some of that picture that you're painting for us
what are some of the most striking data points about chronic absenteeism right now, and I guess, especially since the pandemic, the biggest most striking finding that we saw was realizing that a majority of students sixty six and a half per cent versus twenty five percent before the pandemic attend school, in which twenty percent or more of their students, legally upset that such a huge increase, its also true, that the majority of schools now have twenty percent or more, which really and they have to have a plan in order to figure out how they're gonna tackled issue. We ve, always kind of higher levels and middle and high school and they still have been heavily affected by chronic absence. But the largest increase really happening among our elementary schools before
or the pandemic. We had about three thousand five hundred and fifty schools with extreme levels of chronic absence, meaning thirty percent or more their kids. Now it's close to twenty thousand elementary schools with thirty percent or more levels of chronic absence. These very high level of chronic absence are especially concentrated? places that are economically challenged. So if you look at schools for whom, Seventy five percent of their students are free and reduce price lunch about sixty nine percent of those schools have extreme levels. A conference captain is again that was only about a quarter of all those school before the pandemic. So it's widening in equities because when you have those high levels? Again, it's not just the kids who are chronically acts. In effect, it now the churn, as affecting the learning experience, the teacher
experience of everyone in that school and what about race, like our all kinds of students affected by a chronic absenteeism, and yes, everyone is affected and actual. If you looked at by the composition of numbers, see that there is still more white kids who are chronically absent than any other group, but we also want white kids in this country ass, then country than latino kids in african americans, those three whips, make up the largest numbers of kids, who are chronically absent, but it's important to look at both composition and disproportionality, so who's disproportionately affected, and that actually is a different question. So when you look at who's disproportionately affected. What you see is that native american pacific islander as well as lead, you know one african agriculture disproportionately affected, but these small groups like pacific,
islander and native american. They don't make up across the country that many kids, but this is worth really important for each community to look at their numbers you need to know about which kids are chronically act because it helps you understand where you need to engage in your outreach. What does it mean to be it and linguistically competent in doing that outreach. Who are the community partners who might be able to help you reach different groups and so knowing both who make up the largest numbers and whose disproportionately affected have to think about how to target and tailor your efforts to reach out. So this is really important data to think about, and look at an do, you have anything to say so typically about english learners being disproportionately affect dead students with disabilities as well, and also what about where kids live. If they live in, then he centres or more rural areas of the country, certainly soon
disabilities are disproportionately chronically effort so that a challenge? We also know some of that connected to health issues, but you really are gonna have to at no more about the kids with disabilities, and to understand what might be some the causes. The thing that's also challenging is what's happened. with our english language liners about thirty six percent english language learners are now chronically absent, but one of the things that we saw during the pandemic was a real shift among young english language learners in california, for example, it used to that young english language wondered. Let's kindergartners, who english language learners were actually not really more likely than english peers to be chronically absent in some communities actually showed up. More often, that is new the longer the case. Something happened between the relationship between englishmen. families and schools, and I think it also connects to who got so heavily affected by the pandemic. They were central workers
They often lost a family member illness was a pretty significant challenge and then part What you had to do during the pandemic was keep relationship of trust with families and really communicate out what's happening so family new one school was happening. How school was keeping set itself safe? You know all those connections were really important and I think we weren't so good about doing that with english language learner families, and that disengagement. That then resulted is continuing to be a challenge. For us. It sounds like of our understanding of what chronic absenteeism. Stems from data. Can you talk about the data we have around chronic absenteeism. Is it really all and what kind of challenge Instead, we face with the stated the data right now. What I think data the sense of the scale and scope, and there are
some challenges in that. So, for example, if you look at the data on chronic absence, you can see that it looked like it got better. in a lot of places in the twenty twenty one school year? And that's because we actually didn't really know how to take attendance during virtual learning, and so we tended the count. Kids, I meant that we didn't know how to take it. It's if we didn't have agreements about consistent way. is, and we actually didn't wanna penalized, kids for not being able to get the school sometimes under our truancy perspectives of kids don't show up, then you might end up the having some league consequences. So people in many places made it easy for kids to shopping their shop for five minutes, and you be considered there for the day and even as we come back, from the pandemic. I will say that not every state actually has a consistent definition of what a day of attendance many states leave it still two localities to define, and that means that then you can't compete
data to see who's got good practice in who has who has challenging practice so there Certainly lots of different data issues. I think the other thing is quantitative. Data doesn't tell us why it took on are missing too much. That's where you really have to explore qualitative sources, whether that focus groups, empathy and our view. You can do things that are like to buy tens where you talk to a kid over a period of ten days for two minutes to find out. What's going on with them, you can use surveys. You can do parent cafes. We actually need to use a whole host of qualitative means, why are so many more students missing class? I understand that and then works. You have all worked on five buckets of categories. To explain, in why student or missing school we talk about sort of, as he said these buckets of reasons, and
where before the pandemic, but there are certain issues that got exacerbated during the pandemic. So we talk about kids mescal, because a barriers, aversion disengagement and misconceptions so barriers. that can be trauma. Poor transportation, you no lack of access to technology, g of urine and online situation aversion because of your so you're discipline. Disciplinary practices are pushing out of school disengagement, you know the lack of meaningful relationships to staff or to peers actually heard alot among high school kids that sometimes kids, more engaged in the works. Where they're getting paid maybe I you a minimum wage of fifteen sixteen dollars. In the meantime, there not feeling so confident about well they're doing in school, and so we don't have any cool, heads and engaging place. Rickets wanna be and then there's issues misconceptions where families don't recognize that go and poured in some showing up every day for learning. But right now we also
huge challenge, which is that a lot of families Don't know when to keep their kids home once there's my kid has the sniffles to they stay home. Do I send them to school? It's not that there aren't times where kids should stay home from school. There are times we just have to be very careful about knowing when that is when you really see these high levels of chronic absence, its reflection that the positive editions of learning that we know are so essential to motivating kids to show up to school have been eroded. It's a sign that kids aren't feeling physically and emotionally healthy and safe, or that belonging connection and support or the academic challenge in engagement, or that we've been to invest and students are an adult while being an emotional competence and they can build those relationships that are so crucial to positive condition for learning and women
these categories are root causes which you say were most exacerbated by the pandemic. I think we have to Big challenges, one is around engagement. Do we feel connected? Do we feel supported? Do we know people too? We have those relationships. When people have relationships and strong relationships, they are much more likely to show up and every place that I've seen that sort of has a done a better job of preventing it. citizens from getting even worse is because I found ways to really sustain and build strong relationships between both students and also with families at the same time I think we really need to understand the physical and emotional This is going on for kids in schools and really address that. How do we help kids get access to health service?
they need. Certainly, there is a level of anxiety and mental health, and one of the challenges is sometimes people don't realize it. When kids have anxiety, they end up having stomach eggs. If you have a stomach ache and you keep him home that actually may prevent a child from getting into the routine of school, which actually is one thing that will that will help relieve their anxiety, and so we really have to do a much deeper investment. In that physical and emotional health and safety in schools up next how school leaders are stepping up to address chronic absences. Hey it's shock when since twenty twenty VOX has turned to readers and listeners to help us keep our journalism free most newsrooms make money through either advertising or subscriptions, but for us there are a couple
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Complicated, I'm not so sure this is about innovation, as it is about taking common sense ideas and making sure that we do them. Well, sir, in our last blood that we talked about in november. We talked about for things that schools can be doing. One is family engagement connecting with family. Is making sure they know, what's going on making sure they feel comfortable at school and other school connecting us and school connected, as is If you said that every child feels connected to an adult who they think cares about them, that students are connected to peers, that students are engaged in meaningful activities and that students feel welcome at school when kids a more connected them, much more likely to shop to school, and then there is addressing these health issues both making sure that kids Gauge and prevention related active, easy around whether it's the washing of that We are getting access to dental care and vision, care and making sure that you're staying healthy or also having
says to resources, so you know when to stay home and when the show up to school, if you have a sign of illness than the last I would say, is community partnerships and community schools, because this issue, this work, is beyond what just schools alone could do. We have to have all and on deck with everyone in a community partners to both build that culture of attendance or rebuild that culture of attendance, as well as provide the resources that can address common barriers. They kids, my face to getting to school back in connecticut, curry, salvin cost there has been pounding. The pavement. The state has been celebrated for its home, visiting efforts through leap, the learner, engagement and attendants programme. When we looked at, fall data. We realise kids were not coming back to school and that they were far behind in their learning. We knew we had to do something and we were just a year into the pandemic families were isolated families
in urban areas and other places were doubled up and a lot of people in a house, a lot of people getting sick or or unfortunately, passing away from cove. It's people were scared and we wanted to reengage families with the school and to find out what's happening with them It came through our commissioner and the governors office that we should but boots on the ground to go out and reach out to this fact. is to say, hey. How are you, how can we help attendants works? Was a big help in developing this? It's a multi visit relational visit programme, so you don't just get away. Visit, and they come in and say you need to go to school on your upset, you get multiple visits were the first one in which we don't talk about attendance are grades or behaviors. We talk about
What's going on and how's your family? What are your dreams for your child, and then you also get a picture of what is happening in the house because their siblings and are the siblings having attendance issues as well, and we have the home visitors collective, that data they file home visit report, and then we can see from that what's happening with our families, we provided it's its leap, one or one training for all the home visitors and on how to how to do you found out how to connect with families through the first vote? Ah, there never a knock on the door. Just show up. It's always scheduled and families always have the right to say you don't wanna home visit, so its voluntary home visitors are either community members because we knew at the time Chairs were wound, they still are. We still have staffing issues. we brought in community members to do harm visits and work with the school and train them.
As well. Can you comment on what you learned from the home visits? Maybe something that surprise you about chronic, Since he is on that, you couldn't necessarily capture just from a phone call. I think it was how much help families need it and how much they appreciate The support and the relationships that developed between the home visitors and the family. Was tremendous and we had families who made chicken suit for their homes, brought it to her house, because she had got uncovered and we have on visitors who have helped families with older children fell out fast for forms, which is not an easy thing to do. If one visitors who speak the law which the families, and so we want to make sure that families to have someone to connect with, in addition to teachers and as part of the plan for leap, the learner engagement, tenants broke
we had an about and outside evaluation with a university. It cannot get and central connecticut state university and yukon its through our connecticut collaborative for research with higher at and what they found is that the home visits had an impact, no doubt about net for all families. But what surprised me about it is sort of the qualitative of the evaluation and because the parents, and visitors reported improved school family relationships, increase student engagement on better achievement, increase feelings of belonging, they sort of soft things that we that we know we need to have in schools to improve student attendance and desire to come to score. There was improved access to resources and a greater gratitude and accountability, appreciative for the scorn for each other,
because the ombudsman is there more about families, families learn more about. What's got with schools. That was wonderful, that really speak slap cheer, one climate and culture in us where we want to have relationships, can you talk a little bit or about the home visit programme in relation to the high needs chronically absent students. For example. How do you a dress issues, big issues like health, housing, juvenile justice? How does that fit into the framework of of leap? That's a really good question, because, as that of the things that we see as barriers a lot of time- and it comes from our partnerships and integrating services into schools with an increase school based health centres in our schools, and which was added mental health services in school. So kids don't have to miss school to get those services. Students can who may have an issue. A health issue can just go to the skies. center and then go right back to class. We work closely with our housing partner
and trying to do a lot of outreach and educate. sean around homelessness and the services and support for families and and children around education? Many of the schools have pantries or clauses to help families the clothing and putting wash machines and schools, because kids are saying you're not coming to school, because they don't have clean clothes. When you're talking about those social issues, if schools can't do it alone and they can't do it all, but they certainly can be a connector and that's where leaf is a connector to community partners with our families and our schools. We are even training leap home visitors in the mental health first aid so that they can recognize signs of families who might need help when they're doing their visits-
they feel that there are so many crises in education right now, whether its books being banned or teachers shortage. How do we get people to not bury their heads in the sand when it comes to chronic absenteeism and ignore this issue altogether celebration? I think by identifying whose doing well celebrating those students who have improved attendance at the district global celebrating those schools that are seeing a difference in italians and highlighting with their successes are Super excited about connecticut, improving their attendance in some of our districts have done a great job and just seeing that it can be done, it's not hopeless. There is definitely we definitely have the ability to turn this around and to get back down where we were prepared. I might take a little while I think we're just gonna keep right at it and being positive and focus on the successes,
The connecticut is just one of the states leading the fight against chronic absenteeism, but to make a real difference, more states will need to step up. That's all for us today. Thank you to Kari Sullivan custer and Hetty Chang, joining our producers, selfie lamont, erica I engineered this episode. Colin barrett fact check that our editorial director is aim hall and I'm your guest host for today, Fabiola Sidious. This podcast is part of VOX which doesn't have a paywall help us keep it free by going to vox dot com. Slash, give.
Transcript generated on 2023-12-15.