WASHINGTON – 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.
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