CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM: CAUSES, EFFECTS AND PREVENTION
Chronic absenteeism is commonly defined as missing 10 percent of the school year, about 18 days, included excused and unexcused absences. In the U.S, schoolchildren are suffering from lower rates of achievement due to chronic absenteeism. Between 10-15% of youth are chronically absent each year. Balfanz and Byrnes (2012) estimate that roughly 5-7.5 million students across the U.S. grades K-12 are not attending school regularly each year. It is evidenced across the country, within every age and racial group, though it persists most heavily with students from low-income families.
Effects of Chronic Absenteeism
Absenteeism can directly affect success later in life. Specifically, studies show that for every week a child misses school, their test scores lower incrementally, most significantly in math (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012). Also, missing too much school can affect high school graduation rates as well as college matriculation rates (Kieffer, Marinell, & Stephenson, 2011). Even without improvements to the American education system, just being a persistent attendee at school will significantly higher chances of success (Balfanz & Byrnes 2012). It doesn’t matter if students’ absences are excused or unexcused, because it’s the time away that matters. Most significantly affected are those that are chronically absent for several years, not just chronically absent for one year (Kieffer, Marinell, & Stephenson, 2011).
This problem most highly affects families of lower income and those in special education classes. These populations also most benefit from being in school, since many do not have the appropriate supports at home in order to learn outside of school. The track to leaving a lower-income situation includes obtaining a higher education. This makes education an even greater priority for this population (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012).
Causes of Chronic Absenteeism
There is currently no mechanism in place to monitor and report chronic absenteeism in the U.S. Only six states keep track of and report their statistics; Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon, and Rhode Island (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012). Chang and Romero (2008) carefully outline the main causes for absenteeism which are rooted in three areas: school, family, and community.
School can be seen as an unsafe place that the child does not want to go to. If the child is a victim of bullying, or if they are in constant fear of reading out loud or being called on in class, they will do whatever they can to remain at home and not face others at school. Transitions to new schools or starting a new school year may cause anxiety, making school an unfriendly environment. Schools must also be engaging their students, or risk causing the students to become bored and more likely to feel as though missing some school will not significantly impact their learning. Among older students, having no one to account for their absences at school can motivate them to skip classes more often.
Suspensions also play a factor in student attendance. Taking students out of the structured environment of school disrupts education and escalates poor behavior, making it more difficult to succeed (Cregor & Hewitt, 2011). Because of this, suspensions have become a predictor for future misbehavior and more suspensions (Arts, Bahl,….& Thomas, 2011).
The family may be going through any of many difficult situations that would cause children to miss periods of school; housing instability, job instability, lack of reliable transportation, inadequate health care, lack of clean or appropriate clothing, entrance into the foster care system, etc. Issues at home severely affect a child’s performance in school before we even consider how insufficiently they are educated when they start missing classes.
Starting in Kindergarten, transitioning to attending a public school is difficult for the entire family causing many absences in the initial year that taper off as the family adjusts. Other families may allow their children to miss school, not understanding the importance of attending school every day, even at such a young age. However, this remains harmful to the child’s education, as Kindergarten builds many foundational skills needed for their later education.
The community as a whole may be providing a culture that does not attend to children’s need of education. Escalating community violence, schools placed in unsafe areas, development of a culture that devalues education; these all lead to an environment that denies children’s access to decent education.
What Efforts Are Being Made to End Chronic Absenteeism
There are several organizations aimed towards curtailing the amount of chronic absenteeism in the U.S. Attendance Works is an organization that works nationally and statewide to implement better attendance policies in schools and earlier interventions with families and communities when they see chronic absenteeism occurring. They have worked with five states in the past to further policy initiatives with some success. Their model includes several aspects needed to make a real impact on changing how much chronic absenteeism affects children. Attendance Works combines a public awareness campaign, provides tools to track the data of students that are chronically absent, and builds policy to work with an issue that covers many different aspects (Attendance Works, 2010).
In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has created the Taskforce on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism, and School Engagement. To fight chronic absenteeism, he has initiated a wide range of interventions. Their largest initiative is a mentoring program that has helped many students become accountable for whether they attend school or not. This effectively helps many students understand the importance of attending school and getting a good education and also helps students make the decision to come to school. Because of the success achieved, Bloomberg has widened the group participating for this year (Cramer, 2012). Mayoral interest has helped improve inter-agency cooperation to respond to the issue of chronic absenteeism (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012).
What Work is to be Done
Chronic absenteeism is a national problem and national policy could be utilized to insure the issue is dealt with across the board. However, many issues will need to be addressed and a “fix” to the problem will take some time and effort.
A program that is to effectively deal with the problem of chronic absenteeism must include many different parts. A good program would include 1) a tool to monitor and report student chronic absenteeism; 2) early intervention when a school sees a problem starting, initiating an open communication with the family; 3) effective ways of dealing with issues in families and in the community in a culturally competent way; 4) comprehensive networks of outside resources available for the community; 5) policy engagement to address issues consistently (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012).
Arts, A., Bahl, T., Foster, T., Miller, J., Ofer, U., Phenix, D., Sheehan, N.,& Thomas, H. (2011). Education interrupted. The New York Civil Liberties Union. New York, NY:US
Attendance Works (2010). About. Attendance Works. Retrieved from http://www.attendanceworks.org/about/
Balfanz, R. & Byrnes, V. (2012). Chronic Absenteeism : Summarizing What We Know From Nationally Available Data. John Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools.
Chang, H., Romero, M. (2008). Present, Engaged, and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades. National Center for Children in Poverty. New York, NY.
Cramer, P. (2012 September 12). More students get attendance mentors in program’s third year. Gotham Schools. Retrieved from http://gothamschools.org/2012/09/12/morestudents-get-attendance-mentors-in-programs-third-year/
Cregor, M. & Hewitt, D. (2011) Dismantling the school to prison pipeline. Poverty & Race. 20(1),5-7.
Kieffer, M., Marinell, W., & Stephensen, N. (2011). The Middle Grades Students Transitions Study: Navigating the Middle Grades and Preparing Students for High School Graduation. The Research Alliance for New York City Schools. New York, NY.