Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Half the chronically absent students are in 4 percent of the nation’s school districts and 12 percent of its schools

The recent release of the first-ever national, chronic absence data set by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reveals that this promise is broken for far too many children.  More than 6.5 million students,  or about 13 percent, missed three or more weeks of school during a single school  year, which is enough time to erode their achievement and threaten their chance of  graduating.  Over half were in elementary or middle school.  Students from communities  of color (African American, Native American, Pacific Islander and Latino) as well as those  with learning disabilities were disproportionately affected.  

A  new study, Preventing Missed Opportunity: Taking Collective Action to Confront Chronic Absence, analyses the OCR data, combined with statistics on poverty available from the Census Bureau  and the National Center for Education Statistics.

Key findings:
  • Across the United States, chronic  absence at varying levels affected the vast  majority of school districts (89 percent)  in the country.   Districts with chronically absent students reported numbers ranging  from two to 72,376 students.
  • Half the chronically absent students  are, however, found in just 4 percent  of the nation’s school districts and 12  percent of its schools.   These 654 districts  are spread across 47 states and the District  of Columbia.    » This trend of large numbers of  chronically absent students affecting  a handful of districts also holds true  for states.   In fact, 10 percent of the  chronically absent students nationwide can be found in just 30 districts in two  states with very large student populations,  California and Texas.   
  • Some of the places with the largest  numbers of chronically absent students  are affluent, suburban districts known  for academic achievement.  For example,  Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va., two suburbs of Washington,  D.C., each have more than 20,000  chronically absent students. While their  absence rates are close to the national  average, the large numbers reflect the  sheer size of the districts and their growing  populations of low-income students.  
  •  Districts serving disadvantaged  urban neighborhoods with high rates of poverty typically have both high  rates and large numbers of chronically  absent students.   In these places, which are also highly segregated communities  of color, chronic absence reflects a web of  structural challenges that includes the lack  of adequate affordable housing, limited  access to health care and the absence of  well-resourced schools.  Children may  also suffer from exposure to violence and  environmental pollutants, making regular  school attendance more difficult. Cities  such as Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit,  Milwaukee, and Philadelphia report  that more than a third of students are  chronically absent.    
  •  Many small, poor rural school  districts have few students, but face  extremely high rates of chronic  absenteeism.   While most of the districts  with large numbers of chronically absent  students are urban and suburban, the  majority of districts reporting rates of 30 percent or higher are rural and  town districts. Transportation and other  challenges related to poverty can keep  students from getting to school regularly in  remote areas.      

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