Parental attitudes toward attendance may be a factor in difficulties reducing chronic absenteeism

Ensuring families understand the importance of regular attendance may be just as critical as addressing other underlying causes to high rates of chronic absenteeism, according to researchers.

In a March 26 brief for the Brookings Institution, researchers at the University of Southern California found that a majority of parents and caregivers of children with high rates of absences report not being concerned about their children’s missed school days.

Such mindsets are likely to pose challenges for local educational agencies trying to boost attendance in an effort to help young people continue to rebound academically after the pandemic, and to address social-emotional and other needs that policymakers and educators are working to meet on campuses nationwide.

Among the nearly 2,500 households surveyed between December 2023 and February 2024 that were asked about their children’s absences, 5 percent of parents and caregivers said their child had missed more than 10 days in the first semester of the 2023–24 school year. Of that group, just 47 percent said they were concerned about their child being considered chronically absent. Additionally, 11 percent of respondents said their child had missed six to 10 days in the first semester — only 29 percent of those parents and caretakers expressed concern about their child’s attendance.

Researchers provided several potential reasons for the low concern from caretakers about child absences:

  • About 22 percent of respondents whose child had missed six or more days of school through the first half of the year said it was mostly or very true that their child struggled to catch up after an absence (for comparison, 5 percent of caretakers whose children who had missed zero to five days reported the same).
  • Nearly a third of parents and caretakers, 32 percent, said they aren’t worried about their child missing school because everything the child needs to know is available online. Similarly, 33 percent of those whose children missed six or more days of school said they believe it is okay for students to work from home if they want.
  • However, despite these findings, 91 percent of respondents still agreed or strongly agreed that in-person attendance is important even if materials are online.

“Our results point to low overall levels of concern, which seemingly flies in the face of the evidence about how much school U.S. children are actually missing,” researchers wrote. “If we are going to get children back in school, these results call out for intervention. Parents need very clear, direct reporting about how much school their children are missing, especially if their children’s absenteeism creeps up into chronic territory. Given the importance of attendance for student learning, we hope these findings can offer paths forward to get children back in classrooms as much as possible.”