New Strategies for an Old Problem: Tackling Absenteeism in K-12

A new report from FutureEd and Attendance Works offers 86 pages of suggestions to tackle the post-pandemic absenteeism crisis in the nation’s schools

The COVID-19 pandemic forever changed how America and American families approach K-12 education. Across the country, families grappled with closed schools and virtual learning, working from home, and managing family life amid a public health emergency. The combined stressors resulted in many families reevaluating their perspective on schooling, with more significant numbers ultimately turning to homeschooling, private schools, and local private collaborative models.

With schools reopened, and American education in a “new normal,” many students have returned to the public classroom. But still, school districts across the country — including in Maryland — are struggling with chronic absenteeism and depressed enrollment, which some experts call a “crisis.”

To address the issue, FutureED, and Attendance Works have published an 86-page report recommending how school districts might tackle post-absenteeism in K-12 public schools. The Attendance Playbook is described as the following:

To help education policymakers and practitioners respond to the post-pandemic absenteeism crisis in the nation’s schools, FutureEd and Attendance Works have expanded our Attendance Playbook to reflect schools’ realities during and after the pandemic. The new analysis includes more than two dozen effective, readily scalable approaches covering topics ranging from family engagement to the value of attendance incentives, as well as students’ social and emotional well-being, a high priority for educators post-pandemic.

An implementation guide for schools and districts accompanies the Playbook.

A new playbook for success

The Attendance Playbook features three tiers of strategies for combatting declining enrollment, each with specific strategies to increase the value of attendance and retain student participation, some of which happen to be critical components of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

TIER I Strategies: Foundational Support and Schoolwide Prevention

  • Community Schools
  • Engaging with Families
  • Student-Teacher Relationships
  • Relevant—and Culturally Relevant—Instruction 19 Restorative Discipline Practices
  • Summer Learning and Afterschool Strategies
  • Positive Greetings at the Door
  • Incentives
  • Rethinking Recess
  • Healthy School Buildings
  • School-based Health Services
  • Telehealth
  • Free Meals for All
  • School Buses and Public Transit
  • A Safer Walk to School
  • Laundry at School

TIER II Strategies: Targeted Support

  • Early Warning Systems
  • Targeted Home Visits
  • Mentors and Tutors
  • Targeted Youth Engagement
  • Addressing Asthma
  • Mental Health Support and School Refusal
  • Students with Disabilities
  • Immigration Enforcement

TIER III Strategies: Intensive Support

  • Interagency Case Management
  • Housing Insecurity
  • Truancy

Enrollment in Maryland

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country, our public schools had to quickly adjust to new and creative ways of serving Maryland’s kids. As schools moved to virtual learning, the combined burdens of working from home, managing virtual learning, and caring for family resulted in some Maryland families turning to other options for schooling during the pandemic for various reasons.

The mix of hybrid in-person/virtual schooling, temporary independent homeschooling, and general inconsistency in attendance during the pandemic has resulted in lower enrollment than predicted for the last two cycles.

Today, post-pandemic public school enrollment in Maryland varies. Some counties have mostly bounced back to pre-pandemic attendance levels. Some, like Frederick County, are even experiencing an enrollment boom. Still, others continue to struggle to attract and retain students.

Enrollment plays a crucial role in school funding formulas in Maryland, and is ultimately one factor in determining how much funding local school districts will get in the state’s budget. As such, even temporarily reduced enrollments result for Local Education Agencies (LEAs). Notably, while enrollment may drop, fixed costs such as utilities and personnel costs do not have the same corresponding reduction, leaving LEAs to carry those fixed costs.

Read the whole Attendance Playbook.