‘Talking Out of School’ podcast: Can we conquer chronic absenteeism?

"The churn that's happening in classrooms is now affecting everyone. It's affecting the ability of teachers to teach, teachers to set classroom norms, and kids to learn," Attendance Works Executive Director Hedy Chang says on this week's podcast.

At the risk of telling you something you already know, chronic absenteeism is one of the most serious challenges to superintendents’ efforts to get all students back on track.

chronic absenteeism Hedy Chang
Hedy Chang

“Whether that’s instruction, enrichment activities, socialization opportunities, whether they’re getting access to free food or reduced-price lunches and good nutrition, all of the things we want kids to benefit from require showing up most of the time,” says Hedy Chang, executive director and president of Attendance Works, on this week’s episode of District Administration’s Talking Out of School podcast.

Chronic absenteeism is “significantly elevated” from before the pandemic, doubling from about 16% of students, or about eight million kids, to 30%, or 14.7 million, during the 2021-22 school year. There is not yet a national absentee rate for the 2022-23 school year but state figures show a slight improvement from the heights of COVID, Chang warns.

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“The challenge isn’t just the nearly one out of three kids who are chronically absent it’s the fact that now two out of three kids are in school where 20% or more are chronically absent,” she explains. “The churn that’s happening in classrooms is now affecting everyone. It’s affecting the ability of teachers to teach, teachers to set classroom norms, and kids to learn.”

The persistent causes of absenteeism are “barriers, aversion, disengagement and misconceptions.” One of the most impactful solutions is for administrations to rally all educators—not just those focused on attendance—around creating a more welcoming and healthy school climate. For example, high school career and technical education programs have higher attendance than other courses, Chang explains.

“The places that are successfully bringing kids back to school, you walk onto the campus and you feel different,” she contends. “They are a place you want to be, a place where you feel welcome, they are a place where you have a belief you’re going to learn something that will get you to a better place in life,”

On the podcast, Chang further explains why students continue to miss school and details how some districts are tackling the problem. She also outlines the resources and guidance available from her organization.

You can listen to the episode anytime on Apple, Spotify, Podbean or by clicking below.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of District Administration and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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