WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s a challenge to teach children who aren’t in class — and new government numbers show more than 6.5 million students were absent for at least three weeks of the school year.
The problem was particularly acute in Washington, D.C., where nearly a third of students were absent 15 days or more in a single school year, according to an Associated Press analysis of Education Department data. Washington state and Alaska weren’t that far behind, with absentee rates hovering around a quarter of students.
Florida had the lowest rate of absences: 4.5 percent of students in the state were chronically missing school.
The national average in the 2013-2014 school year was 13 percent, a figure that Bob Balfanz, a research professor at Johns Hopkins University and director of the Everyone Graduates Center, called disturbing.
“If you’re not there, you don’t learn, and then you fall behind, you don’t pass your classes, you don’t get the credits in high school and that’s what leads to dropping out,” Balfanz said in an interview.
Tuesday’s report marked the first release of chronic absentee figures from the department.
According to AP’s analysis, girls were just as likely as boys to habitually miss school. Nearly 22 percent of all American Indian students were reported as regularly absent, followed by Native Hawaiians at 21 percent and black students at 17 percent. Hispanic and white students were close to the national average of 13 percent.
Of the 100 largest school districts by enrollment, the Detroit City School District had the highest rate of chronic absenteeism. Nearly 58 percent of students were chronically absent in the 2013-2014 school year.
Students are regularly missing school for lots of reasons, Balfanz says. Many are poor and could be staying home to care for a sibling or helping with elder care. Others are avoiding school because they’re being bullied or they worry it’s not safe. And then, there are some students who simply skip school.
Schools should be creating welcoming environments to make students feel wanted each day, Balfanz says. They also need to build relationships with the kids who are regularly absent to figure out what’s keeping them away, he said.
The Obama administration began a program last fall called Every Student, Every Day. It partners with states and local groups in 30 communities to identify mentors to help habitually absent kids get back on track.
Chronic absenteeism is one of several topics covered in the department’s Civil Rights Data Collection, a biannual survey of all public schools in the country, covering over 95,000 schools and 50 million students.
Black preschool children are 3.6 times as likely to get one or more out-of-school suspensions as their white counterparts.
Black children represent 19 percent of preschoolers, yet they account for 47 percent of preschool kids getting suspended.
White students make up 41 percent of preschoolers, and 28 percent of preschool kids with suspensions.
Overall, across the country, 2.8 million K-12 students received one or more out-of-school suspensions — a nearly 20 percent drop from the number reported two years ago.
Nationwide, almost half of high schools offered classes in calculus, and more than three-quarters offered Algebra II.
Thirty-three percent of high schools with substantial black and Latino enrollment offered calculus. That compares to 56 percent of high schools with low numbers of black and Latino children that offered calculus. Similar gaps were seen for physics, chemistry and Algebra II.