Chronic Absenteeism In U.S. Schools Gets Government Attention

The Obama Administration has launched a campaign dubbed Every Student, Every Day: A National Initiative to Address and Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism.

The initiative is in response to President Obama’s call to action to improve the lives of all young people through the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) program.

Chronic AbsenteeismThe initiative involves a combination of different government agencies that includes the White House, U.S. Departments of Education (ED), Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Justice (DOJ).

The Obama Administration is appealing to states and local communities across the country to join in the effort to combat and eliminate chronic absenteeism by at least 10 percent each year, beginning in the current school year (2015-16).

According to, Every Student, Every Day is focused on the estimated 5 to 7.5 million students who are chronically absent each year.

The agency noted that chronic absenteeism puts students at heightened risk of falling behind and dropping out of school. It also stated that communities working together can address and eliminate chronic absenteeism, and ultimately boost student success and strengthen the nation’s workforce and future prosperity.

“There should be no barriers when it comes to providing young people with a quality education. Chronic absences from school cause children, especially those who can least afford it, to fall further and further behind their peers. The President’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force recognizes that school attendance is critical to the goal of ensuring that students are able to reach their full potential and to have the necessary tools to succeed. I commend public and private sector commitments to eliminate chronic absenteeism. Making sure that every child is in school every day will bring us one step closer to fulfilling the promise of My Brother’s Keeper,” stated Broderick Johnson, White House Cabinet Secretary and Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force.

In addressing the dire consequences of absenteeism in school, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “It’s common-sense—students have to be in their classrooms to learn, yet too many of our children, and most often our most vulnerable children, are missing almost a month or more of school every year. Through this national initiative we are partnering with communities and providing tools to help our all of our young people attend school every day, so that they are learning the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in school, careers and life.”

Furthermore, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, “Kids who are chronically absent from school are much more likely to drop out later—and not only do they miss the opportunities that come through education, but they are also at greater risk of involvement with the justice system.”

“This new initiative will help teachers and school administrators keep our young people on track for a quality education and a future of achievement,” she added.

According to U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, “A quality education is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children. But too many students today don’t have a safe, stable place to call home, preventing them from attending class regularly and reaching their true potential. This initiative will empower educators and communities to close the opportunity gap facing our most vulnerable children and ensure there’s a student at every school desk, every day.”

Linda Smith Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added, “We know that habits form early, and that’s why an important part of the early education program’s effort is to help children develop important social-emotional skills.”

She also said, “If attendance issues are observed, high quality early childhood programs address these and reach out to families facing attendance challenges to find out why. As a result of offering support and solutions, children may then have better attendance habits in the early years that last throughout their school years.”

The agency stated that frequent absences from school can be devastating to a child’s future and observed that the effects start early and spiral dramatically over time.

Some of the other vagaries of absenteeism the agency pointed to include:

Inability to read at grade level

Direct correlation between inability to read at grade level by third grade and drop out of high school

By high school, regular attendance is a better dropout indicator than test scores.

A student who is chronically absent in any year between the eighth and twelfth grade is seven times more likely to drop out of school.

The agency bemoaned the fact that despite record high school graduation rates, too many of our nation’s young people—particularly students who are low-income, of color, homeless, highly mobile, with disabilities, and/or juvenile justice-involved—still do not graduate from high school or are off-track toward that important goal.

Davy Desmond, Readers Bureau, Fellow

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