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6 Ways to Decrease Chronic Student Absenteeism

Engaging students and partnering with parents are ways to help boost attendance for online or in-person learners.

Each year, more than 7 million U.S. public school students are chronically absent,1 meaning they miss 10% or more of the school year.2 Chronic absenteeism can be devastating to children’s futures, leading to lower academic performance, missed educational opportunities, and increased dropout rates.1


And as educators answer the Department of Education’s call to curtail chronic absenteeism, they are now grappling with additional challenges the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting. For students, some of these include adjusting to different learning formats (virtual learning, in-person classes, or a hybrid of the two), having limited or no access to technology, and lacking adult involvement because working parents are unavailable to supervise learning.

To help stem chronic absenteeism among children who are learning online or in person, building a sense of community among students, parents, and teachers is a good place to start. Dr. Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s commissioner of education, acknowledged the importance of these partnerships in a memo to school superintendents.

“As a result of COVID-19 and the extended disruption of classes, schools and families are learning new ways to engage in this partnership of educating students together. It is important to recognize that each district and family may be facing challenges in this work. Parents may be trying to assist multiple students in a home, while teachers may be also taking care of their own families. It will take a village to strengthen these school-family partnerships.”3

To strengthen those partnerships and boost attendance and engagement, here is a sampling of ideas from educators and other experts:

Stay in Touch

Connectedness is key for Janice Wyatt-Ross, the program director for a dropout prevention center in Kentucky. In the Education Week article “Responding to Absenteeism During the Pandemic and Beyond,” Wyatt-Ross said she uses virtual meetings, group messages, e-mails, mailings, and telephone calls to stay in touch with students and families. When students miss a virtual meeting, a staff member will follow up by phone. “We have one staff member … to monitor student-activity levels. When a student’s activity diminishes, we can immediately address the change in behavior.”4

Technology for All

In school districts that employ virtual learning, educators must ensure that children have equal access to laptops or tablets to prevent a digital divide becoming another cause of chronic absenteeism. During the coronavirus disease outbreak, many schools are providing needed technology and arranging for free Wi-Fi. Where there are gaps, nonprofit organizations may be available to help. In Palm Beach County, Florida, for example, the Quantum Foundation purchased laptops or tablets for children in an underserved community.5 Using resources creatively is another way to provide access and keep students engaged. Schools in Montgomery, Alabama, and Austin, Texas, converted buses into Wi-Fi hotspots and parked them strategically throughout the cities.6

Emphasize the Positive

Foster a positive, supportive culture within the school and classroom. Teachers and staff should come together to design an environment that encourages—and not discourages—attendance. Since the best intentions can sometimes be sabotaged by day-to-day demands, look for creative ways to stick to your plans. For example, if student recognition is a focus, consider this strategy from Prodigy, creator of a curriculum-aligned math platform: “One way to generate more positive reinforcement … is to set goals for the number of compliments each member has to give during the day or week. Encourage them to give specific compliments that highlight what each individual student has done.”7

Involve the Community

New York City has been working on a pilot program with key features that are considered best practices in truancy reduction. The program has resulted in fewer absences at the schools participating in the program. According to a Brookings Institution report, the program “included improved use of data to identify students at risk of chronic absenteeism, student mentors, principal-led school partnership meetings, connections to community resources, an awareness campaign, and attendance incentives.”2

Loop In Parents

This strategy can work in virtual or brick-and-mortal learning settings: Send postcards or text messages to parents reinforcing the benefits of regular attendance. According to the Brookings Institution, “One random-assignment evaluation found that sending parents that single postcard reminder about the importance of attending school increased attendance by 2.4%. A similar intervention reduced absences by about 10%. Text messaging to parents … has been shown to improve attendance by 17%.”2

Engage Teachers

Curbing chronic absenteeism is not just about engaging the students. “The nation’s most successful and engaged schools have teachers and employees who are engaged—meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and school,” said the authors of Gallup’s K-12 Solutions: Transform Your Culture.8 By earning a master’s degree in education, you’ll learn new skills and fresh teaching strategies. With your passion for teaching reignited, you can bring the benefit of your education degree to the classroom.

If you are a working professional and want to be part of the effort to curb chronic absenteeism, Walden University’s online MS in Education (MSEd) degree program can help you advance your career while staying engaged in your current job. Walden’s graduate program for teachers offers flexibility and choice, featuring multiple specializations for K–8 teachers, K–12 teachers, and aspiring principals.

Walden also lets you earn your degree in a format that best fits your life, career, and learning style. Walden’s MSEd Traditional option offers structured learning, a predictable course load, and a fixed schedule. If you are a new student and want to fast-track your online master’s in education, consider Walden’s MSEd Accelerated track. This option is designed to be completed in as few as 12 months, but time to completion varies by student. If you’re seeking an intense learning experience and set semester-based tuition schedule, there is also the One-Credit track.

Earning an MSEd can help you excel as a teacher or administrator and become a key player in decreasing chronic absenteeism by engaging students and leading them to a brighter future.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Education (MSEd) degree program online with multiple specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,