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Michael Medved


The real reason for high rates of absenteeism in Washington state

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

School is back in session, so we need to talk about all the kids that don’t show up.

Washington state ranks second worst in the country when it comes to chronic absenteeism, according to a national report put out by Portraits of Change.

RELATED: Report: Kids are heading back to school … or are they?

Chronic absenteeism can be manifested in the form of truancy, out of school suspensions, excused time away, or any combination of all three. In Washington state, 16 percent of students experience chronic absenteeism, meaning they miss 18 days or more per year.

That sounds pretty bad. But is it? To answer that question, we need to look at the reasons.

Bullying and transportation are a couple possible barriers to attendance. Those are certainly problems that could and should be addressed.

Health problems might be another reason, but that’s a health care problem more than an education problem, right? If that’s the main culprit this chronic absenteeism data might not be all that meaningful in this context.

The last reason is probably the most interesting: the belief, especially among parents of young students, that missing weeks of kindergarten won’t have much impact on future learning. Forty-six percent of elementary schools report high or extremely high rates of absenteeism among all students.

Let’s talk about that. What I think is important in conversations like this is not to use hyperbole to get kids in the classroom.

If you’ve got a bunch of parents in Washington state who don’t think it’s a big deal to keep your kids out of school for weeks at a time, whether we’re talking about kindergarten or not, maybe have that conversation with them. That’s a culture within your school community that you can actually address.

But don’t tell me that missing a few days of kindergarten is going to be the end of the world. If your kid misses a couple days of kindergarten, or even a couple weeks of kindergarten because you’re taking them on a vacation that’s actually meaningful to them, they’re not going to be at an alarming disadvantage. They might even be better off.

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