Kyle Butler Kyle Butler
Senior Manager, Programs


July 09, 2024


Nationwide, the U.S. education system is experiencing a fundamental problem: kids are not going to school. Chronic absenteeism (typically defined as missing 10% of days in a school year for any reason, excused or unexcused) has ballooned since the pandemic, jumping from 15% in 2018 to 28% in 2022.

Chronic absenteeism has obvious impacts on students’ academic outcomes –– if students aren’t in school, they aren’t learning. Students who are chronically absent are significantly less likely to read at grade level and graduate high school. According to the Council of Economic Advisors, the post-pandemic spike in absence can account for up to 27% and 45% of recent declines in test scores, respectively.

Chronic absenteeism also negatively affects more than just students, and the effects should be of particular concern to the business community. Attendance declines are linked to unfavorable school outcomes, including increased high school dropout rates, lower levels of social engagement, and weaker literacy skills. Additionally, when students do not go to school, they do not develop the durable skills needed to succeed in the workforce.

Is there a role for the business community in addressing chronic absenteeism? Absolutely. Community coalitions interested in the success of their students have proven effective in addressing many issues, including chronic absenteeism. For example, the Every Student Present public awareness campaign in New York uses a community-based model to partner with schools to provide interventions such as grocery store gift cards for families whose children showed improved attendance.

Organizations like Attendance Works share concrete ways that business leaders can begin tackling this issue in their communities. To start, consider these actions:

Encourage the district superintendent to track and publish chronic absenteeism data.

Districts must be transparent about chronic absenteeism so schools, families, and community partners can determine the root causes and implement early intervention measures. Rhode Island’s Student Attendance Leaderboard and Richmond Public Schools’ Attendance Tracker are models of how states or districts can share such data, allowing school, community, and business leaders to identify students most at risk of being chronically absent and intervene.

Double down on career-connected learning for all students.

Students are more likely to show up when they feel their learning is relevant to their future. Career-connected learning promotes strong attendance, engagement, and academic achievement. Recognizing this, business leaders can play a crucial role in scaling existing programs and facilitating new opportunities for students to forge durable links between what they learn in school and their professional interests.

Our Employer Provided Innovation Challenges (EPIC) network exemplifies this approach, connecting students with employers through sponsored challenges that address real business problems. This exposure to new skills and career paths demonstrates the practical benefits of career-connected learning. To support and expand such initiatives, the U.S. Department of Education’s Unlocking Career Success initiative compiles best practices, resources, and grant opportunities for communities looking to increase access to career- connected learning. This initiative equips both educators and business leaders with tools to implement effective career-connected learning programs in their communities.

Partner with the district to build strong school-to-work pathways.

The need to work and contribute to household income is a major barrier to attending school for many students. Paid internships for career exploration, programs that allow students to earn credit and gain work experience, and creating flexible schedules for students in and out of school can reduce the likelihood that a student needs to choose between school or work.

Use your network to raise awareness of and urgency around the issue.

Chronic absenteeism is a multi-faceted issue that requires the support of the whole community to mitigate. Local government, healthcare providers, faith leaders, and other community stakeholders can take key actions to make it easier for students to get to school. Talking to employees, displaying posters, or encouraging your network to volunteer can help spread the message and engage the full community. Connecticut’s Learner Engagement and Attendance Program is an excellent example of stakeholders coming together to better understand the root causes of chronic absenteeism and address each student’s individual needs.

Until students are in school and motivated to learn, efforts to help students recover from the pandemic will not be successful. The business community has the most to gain by addressing absenteeism now and stands to lose the most if it does not.

About the authors

Kyle Butler

Kyle Butler

Kyle Butler is senior manager of K-12 education programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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