Has Your Relationship to School Attendance Changed Since the Pandemic?

0
86
Has Your Relationship to School Attendance Changed Since the Pandemic?

Take a look at the graph above. It shows rates of chronic absence in the United States since 2016. What do you notice? What do you wonder? What story does it tell about the state of education today? What headline would you write to capture the graph’s main idea?

Does the information in the graph surprise you? Or is the problem of absenteeism something you have observed in your own school and classrooms?

In “​Why School Absences Have ‘Exploded’ Almost Everywhere,” Sarah Mervosh and Francesca Paris write about how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed families’ lives and the culture of education itself, making attendance feel optional for many:

In Anchorage, affluent families set off on ski trips and other lengthy vacations, with the assumption that their children can keep up with schoolwork online.

In a working-class pocket of Michigan, school administrators have tried almost everything, including pajama day, to boost student attendance.

And across the country, students with heightened anxiety are opting to stay home rather than face the classroom.

In the four years since the pandemic closed schools, U.S. education has struggled to recover on a number of fronts, from learning loss, to enrollment, to student behavior.

But perhaps no issue has been as stubborn and pervasive as a sharp increase in student absenteeism, a problem that cuts across demographics and has continued long after schools reopened.

Nationally, an estimated 26 percent of public school students were considered chronically absent last school year, up from 15 percent before the pandemic, according to the most recent data, from 40 states and Washington, D.C., compiled by the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. Chronic absence is typically defined as missing at least 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days, for any reason.

The article continues:

The trends suggest that something fundamental has shifted in American childhood and the culture of school, in ways that may be long lasting. What was once a deeply ingrained habit — wake up, catch the bus, report to class — is now something far more tenuous.

“Our relationship with school became optional,” said Katie Rosanbalm, a psychologist and associate research professor with the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.

The habit of daily attendance — and many families’ trust — was severed when schools shuttered in spring 2020. Even after schools reopened, things hardly snapped back to normal. Districts offered remote options, required Covid-19 quarantines and relaxed policies around attendance and grading.

Ms. Mervosh and Ms. Paris look at why students are missing school, describing how the “new calculus among families is complex and multifaceted”:

Across the country, students are staying home when sick, not only with Covid-19, but also with more routine colds and viruses.

And more students are struggling with their mental health, one reason for increased absenteeism in Mason, Ohio, an affluent suburb of Cincinnati, said Tracey Carson, a district spokeswoman. Because many parents can work remotely, their children can also stay home.

For Ashley Cooper, 31, of San Marcos, Texas, the pandemic fractured her trust in an education system that she said left her daughter to learn online, with little support, and then expected her to perform on grade level upon her return. Her daughter, who fell behind in math, has struggled with anxiety ever since, she said.

“There have been days where she’s been absolutely in tears — ‘Can’t do it. Mom, I don’t want to go,’” said Ms. Cooper, who has worked with the nonprofit Communities in Schools to improve her children’s school attendance. But she added, “as a mom, I feel like it’s OK to have a mental health day, to say, ‘I hear you and I listen. You are important.’”

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • Has your relationship to school changed since the pandemic began? Have you noticed any differences in your own attendance?

  • The article says that “the trends suggest that something fundamental has shifted in American childhood and the culture of school, in ways that may be long lasting.” Does that resonate with your own experiences? Do you agree with Katie Rosanbalm, a psychologist and associate research professor at Duke University, who said that “our relationship with school became optional”?

  • What is your reaction to the article and the accompanying graphs? Were you surprised to learn that about 26 percent of students were considered chronically absent last school year, up from 15 percent before the pandemic? Is the problem of absenteeism something you have observed in your own school and classrooms?

  • The article notes that student absenteeism is “a leading factor hindering the nation’s recovery from pandemic learning losses” and that “a rotating cast of absent classmates can negatively affect the achievement of even students who do show up.” How has the rise in absenteeism affected you?

  • Ms. Mervosh and Ms. Paris describe how schools are scrambling to improve attendance. The Ypsilanti school district in Michigan, they say in the article, has tried a bit of everything, including home visits, themed dress-up days and, after noticing a dip in attendance during winter months, warm clothing giveaways. What do you think of these strategies? What else do you think schools should do to address the problem?

  • How concerned should we be about the issue of chronic absenteeism? Is it the “new normal,” or just a minor, temporary problem? What do you think adults — parents, teachers, reporters and politicians — should know about young people and their relationship to school as we move forward?


Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.