Chronic absenteeism continues to rise among both students and staff at public schools, according to data released by the National Center for Education Statistics on Wednesday. In the 2021-2022 school year, nearly half — 45% — of schools reported student chronic absenteeism had "increased a lot" from before the pandemic, and 17% reported an increase over the 2020-21 school year.
Meanwhile, 37% of public schools said chronic absenteeism among teachers had increased "a lot" since before the pandemic, and 61% said it's been much more difficult to find substitutes than in a typical school year before the pandemic.
Teacher and student absenteeism has heightened against a backdrop of increased student behavioral issues, according to the data. Schools are reporting higher levels of violence during the pandemic, including: classroom disruptions from student misconduct (56%), student tardiness (55%), rowdiness outside of the classroom such as in hallways (49%), and student acts of disrespect other than verbal abuse directed at teachers or staff (48%).
The nationally representative data was collected in May 2022 from 868 schools as part of the U.S. Department of Education's NCES' effort to study the impact of COVID-19 on public schools.
While at least a third of schools across the nation reported an increase in teacher and student absenteeism since before the pandemic, both trends were slightly more pronounced in the West. For example, 59% of schools in the West reported student chronic absenteeism "increased a lot," compared to 39% in the Northeast, 45% in the Midwest and 38% in the South.
Notably, there were not significantly elevated rates reported among schools with higher levels of poverty.
Over half (52%) of public schools reported having to use alternative strategies very frequently to cover classes when substitute teachers could not be found. The top three alternatives were: administrators covering classes (74%), nonteaching staff covering classes (71%), and other teachers covering classes during their prep periods (68%).
In past surveys by other entities, K-12 employees were almost twice as likely to say they were having a difficult time adjusting to changes brought on by the pandemic, when compared to other government employees. They also reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and burnout.
Teachers have likewise said they needed administrators' support in addressing student behavior and providing more planning time, among other things.
Now, the new federal data released this week shows schools are seeking resources to better support student behavior and development. The top four changes schools seek are:
- More mental health support for students and staff.
- Additional socioemotional development training.
- An increase in staff hiring.
- Added training on classroom management strategies.
In late May, a separate survey conducted by NCES revealed nearly 88% of public schools did not strongly agree that they could effectively provide mental health services to all students in need.
“We’ve seen an increase in students seeking mental health services and in staff voicing concerns about students’ mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr in a statement then. “The pandemic has taken a clear and significant toll on students’ mental health.