Chronic absenteeism: An old problem in search of new answers

Published: July 27, 2017
By: Brookings Institute, Brian A. Jacob and Kelly Lovett

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education (USED) identifies “chronic absenteeism” as a hidden educational crisis. In 2013-14, roughly 14 percent of students nationwide were chronically absent—defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days, excused or unexcused, which in most states would correspond to about 18 days of school missed each year. In some cities, that rate is considerably higher, with Detroit topping the list at 57.3 percent of students chronically absent.

Absenteeism is not a new concern, however. Educators and local officials were focused on this issue as early as the late 19th century—a quarter of the juveniles jailed at the Chicago House of Correction in 1898 were there for truancy. From Tom Sawyer to Ferris Bueller, truancy has been a staple of popular culture in the U.S.

And yet, despite considerable effort on the part of schools, communities, and states over the past 20 years, little progress has been made. It is worth reviewing what we know about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions for chronic absenteeism.

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