Where Are the Students?
In addition to declining enrollment, public education in Missouri has another serious problem—chronic absenteeism. Schools have been reopened for two years, but many students have not returned to the classroom with consistency. As pointed out in a new study by Thomas Dee of Stanford University, this post-pandemic chronic absenteeism threatens post-pandemic academic recovery.
Chronic absenteeism in this case means missing 10 percent or more of the school year—about 18 days in Missouri. Dee reports that from the school year before the pandemic (2018–19) to the year after (2021–22), Missouri’s chronic absenteeism nearly doubled, from 13 percent to 24 percent. That means nearly one quarter of our students, or just under 200,000 students, missed a potentially damaging number of days of school.
While Dee’s study only includes those two time periods, DESE data indicate that chronic absenteeism had already been on the rise in Missouri.
It’s unclear why absenteeism has been growing in Missouri, but it’s a serious problem. Missing a significant number of days can impact math and reading achievement, social–emotional development, and discipline. It is also associated with an increase in risky behaviors outside of school. Missouri leaders should be addressing this problem as the crisis that it is.