Soaring chronic absenteeism in California schools is at ‘pivotal moment’

As a new school year gets underway in California, districts are desperately trying to lure thousands of missing, tardy and truant students back to the classroom in what many view as a pivotal moment for education in California.

In 2021-22, 30% of students in California’s public schools were chronically absent, an all-time high and more than three times the pre-pandemic rate. Advocates fear that unless schools can reverse the trend, so many students will fall behind that they may never catch up.

“This is a crisis, and it’s not going to change until we do everything we can to get kids back in school 100%,” said Heather Hough, a Stanford professor and director of Policy Analysis for California Education. “What we all fear is that this will become the new normal.… It is hard to overstate the importance of this issue, and it is absolutely a pivotal moment.”

Before the pandemic, about 10% of students in California’s public schools missed at least 10% (or 18 days) in a school year, which the state defines as chronically absent. But COVID-related school closures, remote learning and quarantines have created a new habit for millions of families: optional, not mandatory, daily school attendance.

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