Chronic Absenteeism on the Rise in U.S Schools During the Pandemic

Picture of a Child Wearing a Face Mask During the COVID-19 Pandemic By Candace McDaniel From StockSnap

It’s been nearly a year since the start of the pandemic. The world has had to adapt to the startling emergence of COVID-19 and its crippling effects. One significant consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the changes made to education: students at all levels have had their education negatively affected by the pandemic. The United States, a country that prides itself on its education system and the accomplishments of its students, has been especially challenged. 

Education is a universal human right, a right that has been left unfulfilled by the U.S. during the pandemic. Chronic absenteeism in schools has increased to a worrying level. When students are not given adequate access or support to attend school they are not able to experience the education that they are entitled to, which can have detrimental effects. The pandemic has illustrated how chronic absenteeism in the U.S. can significantly affect student performance, and how there is currently a need to adapt education to ensure that every students’ right to education is being fulfilled and protected at all times. 

The pandemic has challenged the United States education system like nothing has before. When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared the U.S. rushed to shut down schools for the safety of students and staff. The U.S. went from one state shutting down schools on March 12 to eventually all public school buildings throughout the country being closed on March 25. As COVID-19 ravaged the country, many were left wondering what the next steps would be. It was clear that for the duration of the pandemic United States schools would need an alternative to traditional, in-person instruction. The solution was assumed to be online learning. By May 7 many schools had already transitioned to online instruction and 80 percent of teachers reported seeing their students at least on a weekly basis through this medium. While online learning has helped the U.S. keep education progressing during the pandemic, it has created many challenges to ensuring every student is receiving adequate education. 

Picture of a School Closure Sign Due to the Covid-19 in Pennsylvania By Brinacor From Wikimedia Commons

Online learning has made it more difficult in many aspects for students to attend school and receive their education. One of the most significant issues is the availability of technology and internet access to students. There are many students throughout the United States who lack the resources to participate in online learning. For example, a recent study showed that almost all 15 year old students in the U.S. from privileged backgrounds have a computer to work on for school, while 25% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds lack this vital resource. The lack of reliable technology among many students ensures they are bound to miss school and not receive an adequate education.When students are not being provided with the resources and support they need to receive an education they are being failed. Online learning has become the new normal so it is the responsibility of the United States and other countries to ensure that every student has access to the tools necessary to attend school and learn.

As COVID-19  and online learning spread throughout the nation, the U.S witnessed a rise in chronic absenteeism in schools like it had never seen before. The U.S. Department of Education reports that “Students who are chronically absent—meaning they miss at least 15 days of school in a year—are at serious risk of falling behind in school”. Before the pandemic the U.S. was already dealing with the problem of chronic absenteeism in schools and its detrimental effects. The pandemic only exacerbated the problem in new ways: research shows that absenteeism has increased significantly since the pandemic started, and that “absenteeism rates appear to have nearly doubled between this fall and before the pandemic across the board, regardless of whether remote learning is in place or not”. Moreover, reports from the fall of 2020 show that “Eleven districts in California are seeing an 89% surge in chronic absenteeism among students in elementary grades compared to last year”. The rise in chronic absenteeism throughout U.S. schools over the past year can signal a lot about the accessibility and state of education throughout the country. When school absences are increasing it is clear that students are not or can not be in school, and we must ask ourselves why? 

 Despite the circumstances, it is the responsibility of the United States government to ensure that every child and student has access to education. Education is a recognized and important human right. Therefore it is the obligation of all governments to ensure that their people, especially their young students, are given the opportunity to learn. No matter the situation governments must ensure that all students are being provided with accessible education and given the support they need to be able to attend school. When it is evident that students are not getting the education they need, changes must be made to provide students with better access to learning and extra support if needed. With absenteeism on the rise during the pandemic it is apparent that students do not have access to the education they need and are entitled to, which has critical effects. 

The effects of chronic absenteeism are gravely serious, and have been reinforced during the pandemic. When students miss school, especially if they are chronically absent, their performance decreases and the risk of them not graduating high school increases. Research has shown “that each week of absence per semester in ninth grade is associated with a more than 20% decline in the probability of graduating from high school” and “With respect to performance, the disadvantage associated with absenteeism grows as the number of days missed increases”. The effects of the pandemic and the resulting absenteeism on student performance is already being shown. A recent study shows that, “In math, the current pandemic class of students performed about 5 to 10 percentile points lower than the pre-pandemic comparison group”. There is no doubt that COVID-19 is negatively impacting student learning in the U.S., and now more data is being uncovered to prove it. The consequences of absenteeism on high school graduation rates is a worrying phenomenon that we will likely see the effects of in the future after the pandemic is over. 

In order to combat the absenteeism and its negative effects that are currently occurring as a result of the pandemic, the U.S. must find new ways to provide sufficient access to education and supplementary support if need be. In order to adapt to the current situation the United States and other countries facing the same problem must develop alternative methods to make sure all students have access to school, to keep students in school, engaged, and learning. Some school districts in California are already attempting to tackle the issue of absenteeism that has increased during the pandemic. EdSource reports that, “Oakland and West Contra Costa track attendance based on student participation in online lessons, as well as work turned in online. They have implemented plans for following up on absences that include calls, emails and letters home to families, as well as other outreach and support that intensifies the longer students are absent” . Through monitoring attendance and persistent efforts to ensure students return to or remain in school absenteeism and its effects can be lessened. When schools know when and why students are absent they can develop solutions to help students return back to the education they deserve and require.

Picture of an Online Learning Icon By HaticeEROL From Pixabay

 These districts have also created new resources to not only lessen absenteeism, but to provide extra support when it does occur or when students are simply not learning effectively. Oakland and West Contra Costa “ are building community partnerships to offer “learning hubs” on non-school sites”, and “Oakland Unified is working with the nonprofit Oakland Public Education Fund to place about 300 volunteer virtual tutors with students who need extra support” (EdSource). Now, during these difficult times, the United States must be extremely vigilant in providing education and developing new ways to deliver extra support to students who are not receiving adequate education during a normal school day, whether it be due to a lack of technological resources or oversight allowed by online learning. The steps taken by Oakland and West Contra Costa to combat absenteeism and the other challenges of online learning, are just some examples of ways states and the government can help provide students with the education that they are entitled to during the pandemic. 

There is no doubt that the pandemic has led to many unexpected and significant changes in the lives of everyone throughout the world. These changes are still occurring as countries fight to combat COVID-19 and return to the world we once knew. The pandemic has and is still forcing the education system in the United States to adapt. The rise of chronic absenteeism in U.S. schools shows that while changes were made to continue educating students throughout the pandemic, many students are falling behind and experiencing negative effects, like falling test scores. Everyone is entitled to the right to education, and when students do not have adequate access to education or face obstacles attending class something needs to be done about it. Whether it be providing extra support to students who are struggling with online learning or providing students with the resources they need to access school action needs to be taken. By ensuring that every student has the opportunity to truly attend and succeed in school the United States is helping its students and itself foster a bright future.