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Review article, school attendance and school absenteeism: a primer for the past, present, and theory of change for the future.

tardiness and absenteeism of students research paper

  • 1 Department of Psychology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV, United States
  • 2 Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, United States
  • 3 Department of Developmental Psychology and Teaching, University of Alicante, San Vicente del Raspeig, Alicante, Spain
  • 4 Research Group TOR, Department of Sociology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Research Foundation Flanders, Brussels, Belgium

School attendance and school absenteeism have been studied for over a century, leading to a rich and vast literature base. At the same time, powerful demographic, climate, social justice/equity, and technological/globalization forces are compelling disparate stakeholders worldwide to quickly adapt to rapidly changing conditions and to consider new visions of child education for the next century. These overarching forces are utilized within a theory of change approach to help develop such a vision of school attendance/absenteeism for this era. This approach adopts key long-range outcomes (readiness for adulthood for all students; synthesized systemic and analytic approaches to school attendance/absenteeism) derived from thematic outputs (reframing, social justice, and shared alliances) that are themselves derived from contemporary inputs (movement of educational agencies worldwide toward readiness for adulthood, technological advances, schools, and communities as one). As with theory of change approaches, the purpose of this discourse is not to provide a roadmap but rather a compass to develop multi-stakeholder partnerships that can leverage shared resources and expertise to achieve a final mutual goal.


School attendance and school absenteeism were one of the first areas of study for emerging disciplines such as education, psychology, and criminal justice in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With the advent of the labor rights movement, new employment laws, and the needs for an educated workforce and greater social order, children were increasingly moved from industrial and agricultural settings to more formalized school settings ( Rury and Tamura, 2019 ). School absenteeism thus became viewed as a legal as well as a societal problem in need of remediation, with a concurrent focus on illegal truancy as well as delinquency as a primary cause ( Williams, 1927 ; Kirkpatrick and Lodge, 1935 ; Gleeson, 1992 ). Around the mid-20th century, however, psychological approaches focused on other possible causal mechanisms of school absenteeism such as child fear/anxiety, problematic separation from caregivers, family dysfunction, and proximity to deviant peers (e.g., Johnson et al., 1941 ; Waldfogel et al., 1957 ; Kennedy, 1965 ). Many of these approaches centered on students and their families, a predominant focus of many professionals even today. Only later in the 20th century, and especially following the civil rights movement of the 1960s as well as a revival of Marxist theory via the emergence of social stratification research, did researchers and other stakeholders more intensely examine broader contexts of school absenteeism that included the school environment, the surrounding community, and economic, cultural, political, and other macro influences ( Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977 ; Willis, 1977 ; Weinberg, 1991 ; Sleeter, 2014 ).

Today, the study of school attendance/absenteeism comprises many disciplines such as child development, criminal and juvenile justice, economics, education, epidemiology, law, leadership, nursing, medicine, political science, program evaluation, psychiatry, psychology, public and educational policy, school counseling, social work, and sociology, among others. These approaches can be divided generally into systemic perspectives that focus on overarching contexts and structural concerns as well as analytic perspectives that focus on specific contexts and individual concerns ( Kearney, 2021 ). Together these approaches have produced a rich and vast repository of knowledge over the past century regarding the conceptualization of school attendance/absenteeism with respect to domains such as definition, classification, risk/protection, trajectory, measurement, and intervention. At the same time, however, the breadth and multifaceted nature of these varied systemic and analytic approaches has led to myriad avenues of investigation that are not always well-coordinated or integrated. In addition, geographical and cultural differences in systems of education, including areas where education does not exist at all, further complicate the current landscape of school attendance/absenteeism ( Porto, 2020 ).

On top of all of this are relatively recent revolutionary and fundamental changes in human communication and interaction that are spurred in part by climate change, demands for equity and social justice, demographic and migration shifts, globalization, health crises, political movements, and technological advancements ( Krishnamurthy et al., 2019 ; Mao et al., 2019 ; Cleveland-Innes, 2020 ; Rapanta et al., 2021 ). As such, the very nature of educating children is being radically altered and will continue to evolve (or devolve) quickly over the next decades. The challenge before us in the next century is thus not only to assimilate the different systemic/analytic and geographic/cultural approaches to school attendance/absenteeism but also to meld this assimilation process with rapidly changing undercurrents of essential human functioning.

The purpose of this article is to provide a primer for stakeholders in this area regarding the past and next century vis-à-vis school attendance/absenteeism. As such, broad strokes are emphasized at the expense of greater detail regarding specific investigations. The article is divided into three main sections. The first section outlines key conclusions that can be drawn from a century’s worth of study of school attendance/absenteeism. The second section outlines how some of the revolutionary and fundamental changes noted above are impacting child education as well as traditional notions of school attendance/absenteeism. The third section, a theory of change approach, outlines a potential mutual vision for what the study of school attendance/absenteeism could look like in the coming decades.

The past: What is known?

A more than century’s worth of study allows for several broad conclusions about what is known regarding school attendance/absenteeism. Six such conclusions are presented next that are drawn from communal themes across the many disciplines in this area. First, school attendance/absenteeism are global issues but ones that are studied primarily within geographically limited areas . Less than three-quarters of children worldwide complete at least a lower secondary school education ( UNESCO, 2019 ). This rate is particularly restricted for sub-Saharan Africa (38%), northern Africa and western Asia (72%), central and southern Asia (75%), and Latin America and the Caribbean (76%). Unfortunately, the vast majority of research regarding school attendance/absenteeism comes from continental areas that have the highest completion rates in this regard: Europe and North America (98%) and Oceania (92%). Although emerging research is emanating from places such as South America, Asia, and Africa (e.g., Momo et al., 2019 ; Gonzálvez et al., 2020 ), not nearly enough is known in these areas about the domains of school attendance/absenteeism noted earlier.

Second, rates of school attendance/absenteeism differ substantially and disproportionately affect vulnerable student groups . Approximately 17% of children worldwide do not attend school, and many of these students are deliberately deprived of an education on the basis of gender, disability, and/or ethnicity. Students in low-income countries also experience greater barriers to an education such as food and housing insecurity, lack of instructors and academic materials, large class sizes, long distances to school, poor infrastructure, and violence ( UNESCO, 2019 ). Health crises and limited economic opportunities in these regions also drive students out of school and into premature labor roles ( Mussida et al., 2019 ; Reimers, 2022 ). Even in developed countries, elevated school absenteeism and dropout rates occur among vulnerable groups such as impoverished students, migrant students, students of color, students with disabilities, and students less familiar with the dominant cultural language ( Garcia and Weiss, 2018 ; Koehler and Schneider, 2019 ; Sosu et al., 2021 ).

Third, school attendance is generally associated with student benefit and school absenteeism is generally associated with student harm . One could contend that formal schooling is one of the best interventions ever designed for children, or at least for many children. Regular school attendance and school completion have been linked to adaptive functioning in many child developmental domains (e.g., academic, behavioral, health, psychological, and social; Rocque et al., 2017 ; Ehrlich et al., 2018 ). These effects have both short-term (e.g., educational achievement) as well as long-term (e.g., enhanced lifetime earning potential) positive impacts. Conversely, school absenteeism and school dropout have been associated with less adaptive functioning in these domains, with both short-term and long-term negative impacts ( Ansari et al., 2020 ; Rumberger, 2020 ). Caveats apply to this general conclusion, however. For many students, particularly vulnerable students, school is an environment associated with biased exclusionary discipline, racism, oppression, systemic discrimination, and victimization ( Kohli et al., 2017 ; Sanders, 2022 ). In related fashion, many students miss school as a more adaptive choice, such as to support a family economically ( Chang et al., 2019 ; Ricking and Schulze, 2019 ).

Fourth, school attendance/absenteeism are complicated constructs that require innovative measurement strategies . School attendance/absenteeism represents more than just physical presence or absence in a brick-and-mortar building. Many forms of school attendance/absenteeism exist across multiple instructional formats, including virtual or distance learning formats, that demand new and broader metrics (e.g., log-ins, completed assignments, student-teacher interactions, and mastery of skills) for measuring these constructs ( National Forum on Education Statistics, 2021 ). In addition, school absenteeism comprises a spectrum of attendance problems that can include full or partial day absences, missing classes, tardiness, student/family problems in the morning, and distress, somatic complaints, and other psychological problems that interfere with school attendance ( Li et al., 2021 ; Kearney and Gonzálvez, 2022 ). This has led to broader definitions of school attendance/absenteeism that focus less on physical presence/absence and more on engagement ( Patrick and Chambers, 2020 ; Kearney, 2021 ). Greater sophistication with respect to systemic evaluation (e.g., early warning systems) and analytic assessment (e.g., clinical protocols) methods also allows for more sensitive data analytic strategies to define problematic school absenteeism for certain student groups and across geographical regions ( Balfanz and Byrnes, 2019 ; Gonzálvez et al., 2021 ; Kearney and Childs, 2022 ).

Fifth, school attendance/absenteeism remains associated with multiple risk and protective factors across ecological levels . One advantage of the contemporary era is that a historical, singular focus on either student/family or other narrow-band risk/protective factors or on school-related or other broad-band risk/protective factors is yielding to more integrated approaches for understanding the complex ecology of school attendance/absenteeism ( Kim, 2020 ; Singer et al., 2021 ). Stakeholders now understand that interconnected risk/protective factors in this area range from granular to immense levels; examples include disability/academic achievement (student level), psychopathology/academic involvement (caregiver level), residential movement/cohesion (family level), victimization/positive norms (peer level), negative/positive climate quality (school level), neighborhood violence/safe avenues to school (community level), and structural economic inequalities/well-financed educational agencies (macro level; e.g., Zaff et al., 2017 ; Gubbels et al., 2019 ). In addition, stakeholders increasingly view school attendance/absenteeism from a comprehensive Bronfenbrenner-like ecological approach; examples include linkages between student-caregiver interactions (microsystem), caregiver-school staff communications (mesosystem), educational policies (exosystem), transportation vulnerabilities (macrosystem), and changes in these systems as children move from preschool to elementary, middle, and high school and beyond (chronosystem; e.g., Melvin et al., 2019 ; Childs and Scanlon, 2022 ).

Sixth, positive interventions to enhance school attendance and to reduce school absenteeism are generally though perhaps only moderately effective . Positive interventions are defined here as those that are empirically supported, intentional, and designed to foster well-being ( Tejada-Gallardo et al., 2020 ). Systematic reviews and meta-analyses reveal that positive interventions from both systemic and analytic perspectives are modestly effective at boosting school attendance and reducing school absenteeism (refer to, for example, Maynard et al., 2018 ; Keppens and Spruyt, 2020 ; Eklund et al., 2022 ). Key limitations, however, include insufficient integration of these various intervention strategies as well as incomplete dissemination and implementation across schools, community support agencies, and student groups ( Heyne et al., 2020 ; Kearney and Benoit, 2022 ). In contrast, negative interventions, defined here as punitive measures to suppress certain behaviors, paradoxically exacerbate school absenteeism and are disproportionately and perniciously applied to vulnerable student groups ( Mireles-Rios et al., 2020 ; Weathers et al., 2021 ). Examples include exclusionary discipline (e.g., arrests, expulsion, and suspension) and zero tolerance laws that often focus on deprivation of resources (e.g., via fines or restrictions on financial assistance or licenses) for absenteeism ( Conry and Richards, 2018 ; Rubino et al., 2020 ).

A century of work has produced a prodigious amount of knowledge regarding school attendance/absenteeism. But, the world is changing fast. As mentioned, revolutionary and fundamental changes in human communication and interaction will alter the course of child education and thus the study of school attendance/absenteeism for decades to come. A complete summary of all possible future effects on education is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, we concentrate on some of the broadest and perhaps most wide-ranging influences in this regard: demographic shifts, climate change, demands for social justice and equity, and technological advancements and globalization. These influences, discussed next, are naturally complex, often subsuming other themes, and are naturally interwoven with one another.

The present: What is changing?

As stakeholders develop new visions of child education and school attendance/absenteeism for the future, several key fundamental shifts must be considered. One key fundamental shift worldwide involves demographic changes such as uneven (rising and declining) birthrates, more frequent migration patterns between regional countries and especially from south to north, and increased urbanization. Population growth is expected to largely emanate from African and Indo-Pacific countries and population decline is expected to be most acute for European and eastern Asian countries ( United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2022 ). In addition, older age groups will grow fastest and will eventually outnumber children and adolescents. Migration is expected to expand considerably due to violence, persecution, deprivation, and natural disasters. Urbanization will increase from 55 to 68 percent of people by 2050, especially in Asia and Africa ( United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2018 ).

These demographic shifts have many ramifications for child education and the study of school attendance/absenteeism. First, school closures in areas of population decline, a phenomenon already present in many countries, would be expected to accelerate. School closures create interrupted learning and measurements of learning, lengthy distances to new schools, compromised nutrition, social isolation, economic costs for families, and burden on existing schools ( Hanushek and Woessmann, 2020 ). Learning losses due to school closures are particularly negatively impactful for disadvantaged students ( Maldonado and De Witte, 2022 ). Conversely, education infrastructure for fastest-growing areas, already a problematic situation in areas noted above, will need to be prioritized. Second, increased migration means the need to integrate different student groups into a dominant educational culture. Challenges with respect to interrupted schooling, language, seasonal work, community isolation, socioeconomic disadvantages, fears of deportation, stigma, discrimination, and family separation thus apply ( Martin et al., 2020 ; Osler, 2020 ; Rosenthal et al., 2020 ; Brault et al., 2022 ). Increased migration will also magnify brain drain of highly skilled educational professionals ( Docquier and Rapoport, 2012 ) that contributes to international student performance gaps ( Hanushek et al., 2019 ). Third, increased urbanization often means more concentrated economic disadvantage, racial segregation, affordable housing shortages, educational inequalities, and transportation vulnerabilities ( Shankar-Brown, 2015 ).

A second key fundamental shift worldwide involves climate change . Climate change affects migration, as noted above, forcing students to change schools, adapt to new curricula, and potentially experience greater trauma ( Prothero, 2022 ). Greater pressure to drop out of school to support families economically may occur as well ( Nordengren, 2021 ). Climate change can also affect the physical structure of schools with limited air conditioning or ventilation or ability to withstand extreme weather, forcing cancellation of school days and reducing the availability of safe water and school-based meals ( Sheffield et al., 2017 ). Schools in many parts of the world have closed for lengthy periods or been destroyed by cyclones, typhoons, floods, drought, landslides, and sea level rise. Related climate change risks include parent mortality, food insecurity, and increased air and water pollution in part due to lack of access to electricity and modern fuels ( UNICEF, 2019 ). Environmental activism appears to buffer climate change anxiety and may be a protective factor for mental health in the climate crisis ( Schwartz et al., 2022 ). Accordingly, students question the purpose of school attendance when their schools fail to provide curricular innovation regarding climate change, or to mitigate their environmental impact ( Benoit et al., 2022 ).

Such changes in climate, already rapidly accelerating, may demand abrupt shifts between in-person and distance learning, enhanced methods for student tracking and records transfer, and improvements in educational infrastructure ( Chalupka and Anderko, 2019 ). School buildings are also large energy consumers and may need to transition toward a reduced carbon footprint by shifting education to home- or community-based settings and/or by adopting energy efficient appliances, electric vehicles, and elimination of single use plastics, among other measures ( Bauld, 2021 ). Education will also need to shift to careers of the future that intersect with a changing climate, such as renewable energy, environmental engineering, and emergency management ( Kovacs, 2022 ). Basic education about the climate crisis, especially in developing countries, will need to be prioritized as well ( Rousell and Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, 2020 ). The transition to sustainable development starts with pedagogical strategy and teacher training involving an Education for Sustainable Development program that emphasizes a concordant balance between societal, economic, and environmental imperatives ( Ferguson et al., 2021 ).

A third key fundamental shift worldwide involves an increased demand for, as well as pushback against, social justice and equity in educational systems . Calls are growing to reduce or eliminate barriers to school attendance such as digital divides, disparities in school discipline, inequities in school funding, lack of access to school- and community-based care, oppressive school climates, transportation vulnerabilities, and victimization, all of which disproportionately impact vulnerable youth ( Kearney et al., 2022 ). In addition, efforts to integrate themes of social justice and equity into education include revising school curricula toward multiple perspectives, addressing personal biases, supporting vulnerable students with respect to school completion, and matching the demographic characteristics of school staff and students ( Spitzman and Balconi, 2019 ; Gottfried et al., 2021 ). Such efforts will also include a greater recognition that the surrounding community must be a target of intervention, especially in areas of high chronic absenteeism ( Grooms and Bohorquez, 2022 ; Kearney and Graczyk, 2022 ).

At the same time, however, an active global anti-science movement coupled with laws to restrict access to education, certain academic materials, and LGBTQ and gender rights in many countries serve as powerful counterweights to enhancing social justice and equity in educational systems ( Hotez, 2020 ; Horne et al., 2022 ). Political movements emphasizing meritocracy but simultaneously depriving the means for equitable educational and social mobility also remain active and influential ( Owens and de St Croix, 2020 ). Growing dissatisfaction with traditional educational settings and methods also means that many constituents are emboldened to attack educational system components such as school boards and curricula ( Borter et al., 2022 ). More caregivers are thus seeking alternative choices, including home-based education, and many schools are facing critical teacher and leadership shortages ( Eggleston and Fields, 2021 ; Wiggan et al., 2021 ).

A fourth key fundamental shift worldwide involves an ongoing modification of pedagogical goals and instructional formats for child education due to globalization and technological advancements . The pedagogical goals of education will depart from the historical Industrial Revolution model of memorization and standardization and toward a whole child/citizen approach where learning is accessible, collaborative, competency-based, inclusive, personalized, self-paced, and in part focused on student well-being. Such learning will emphasize skills needed for adult readiness that surround communication, creativity, innovation, and problem-solving ( World Economic Forum, 2020 ). In addition, such learning will extend into emerging adulthood and be lifelong in nature as necessary skills require continual upgrades ( Kim and Park, 2020 ).

Technological advancements also mean that the nature of education will be changing rapidly over the next decades. Some of these advancements will involve existing avenues such as cloud computing, hand-held devices and their applications, multi-touch surfaces, and social media ( Polly et al., 2021 ). Other advancements will involve currently nascent avenues such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, biometrics, robots, and metaverse ( Aggarwal et al., 2022 ). As such, myriad alterations are expected with respect to instructional formats and settings, student-teacher communications, and strategies for learning ( Yang et al., 2021 ). Less distinction will be made between traditional schools and other home and community settings, and the classroom of tomorrow may represent more of a digital network than a physical space ( Kearney, 2016 ).

All of these changes demand consideration of new and more integrative visions for the future study of school attendance/absenteeism. Stakeholders in this area are often incentivized to pursue iterative processes or incremental changes; examples include researchers and clinicians beholden to outmoded conceptualization systems, granting agencies that reward piecemeal advancements, and policymakers searching for rapid and simple (and usually punitive) responses to a complex problem. Instead, a proactive approach is needed that integrates all stakeholders in part by establishing a mutual vision for the future. Such a vision would itself demand a focus on what is already known, what is changing, and what long-term goals must be pursued. One attempt to craft such a vision is presented next.

The future: What is the vision?

In this section, we make observations and recommendations for the future study of school attendance/absenteeism in light of the changing world and educational landscape noted in the previous section. We adopt two main perspectives in this regard. One perspective, a constructivist approach, means that stakeholders across the globe would be expected to view, develop, and apply these observations and recommendations quite differently based on their unique challenges, experiences, communities, viewpoints, and evolving life circumstances. In related fashion, areas of the world have vastly different systems, laws, and resources regarding education and thus school attendance/absenteeism. A second perspective, a theory of change approach, means that, despite these many global differences, a mutual vision could be developed to serve as a compass over the next decades for myriad global stakeholders. Such an approach toward a mutual vision may also be helpful for synthesizing systemic/analytic as well as geographic/cultural approaches to school attendance/absenteeism.

Theory of change

One avenue for integrating various approaches for a complex problem is the development of multi-stakeholder partnerships that leverage shared resources and expertise to achieve an eventual final goal in a postmodern era. Such partnerships involve establishing a mutual vision that sets the stage for ongoing interactions among the partner entities. Indeed, the sustainability of an alliance among partner entities is often enhanced by belief in a collective outlook, use of similar strategies, and some prior success working together ( D’Aunno et al., 2019 ). Key partner entities for school attendance/absenteeism that meet these criteria include those representing both systemic and analytic approaches, such as educators, health-based professionals, policymakers, researchers, students, caregivers, state agencies, and national and international organizations.

One mechanism for creating a mutual vision among disparate partner entities involves theory of change , which is a “participatory process whereby groups and stakeholders in a planning process articulate their long-term goals and identify the conditions they believe have to unfold for those goals to be met” (p. 2, Taplin and Clark, 2012 ). Theories of change are typically designed in backward fashion around desired long-term goals (outcomes), intermediate steps and interventions that can produce those outcomes (outputs), and current conditions and initiatives that serve as the impetus for the outputs (inputs; Guarneros-Meza et al., 2018 ). Theory of change helps inform overarching long-term vision and strategic planning by producing assumptions that can be tested by research. Theory of change is “method-neutral,” relying on many informational sources (e.g., grey/published literature, program/policy evaluation, stakeholder feedback), which makes the approach particularly amenable to the disparate area of school attendance/absenteeism ( Breuer et al., 2015 ).

The following sections introduce a futuristic, broad-strokes theory of change for school attendance/absenteeism that coalesces systemic and analytic approaches and assumes a mutual long-term (postmodern) goal of readiness for adulthood for all students . Although such a goal may pertain to quality of education more broadly, a specific focus on school attendance/absenteeism is chosen here because these constructs are better defined operationally, underpin education, and serve as a proxy for variables such as behavioral school engagement. Theory of change for a postmodern era seems particularly salient given substantial demographic, climate, social justice, pedagogical, technological, globalization, and other forces in the contemporary era that are compelling educators and other stakeholders to re-examine historical assumptions about instructional formats, equity of systems, and economic sustainability in adulthood ( Atiku and Boateng, 2020 ).

The theory of change framework introduced here is not a final blueprint but rather a starting point for discussion. All aspects of a theory of change framework, including its fundamental assumptions, are subject to debate, analysis, modification, and refutation. As such, the theory of change framework introduced here is a fundamental model of action and not an advanced log frame approach that articulates specific indicators for success, measurement milestones, and mechanisms for causal connections ( De Silva et al., 2014 ). The framework described here ( Figure 1 ) is instead presented in a flexible, constructivist format without a rigid, predefined structure in order to allow for multiple causal pathways and interlocking systems that may progress toward a mutual goal in various ways.


Figure 1 . Theory of change for school attendance and its roblems. This figure shows how contemporary inputs could lead to key outputs that could produce outcomes in a postmodern era.

The first step in designing a theory of change for a given issue is to define the primary long-term goals or outcomes. With respect to school attendance/absenteeism, the primary outcome utilized here is readiness for adulthood for all students. The secondary outcome is a synthesis of systemic/analytic and geographic/cultural approaches to school attendance/absenteeism to enhance multi-stakeholder partnerships that leverage shared resources and expertise to achieve full school attendance and thus readiness for adulthood for all students.

One overarching purpose of youth-based education, and thus school attendance, is to ensure readiness for adulthood for all students ( Pimentel, 2013 ). Readiness is a multifaceted construct that includes career and life skills necessary to be successful in postsecondary education and employment ( Mishkind, 2014 ). Career (or academic) readiness can include variables such as critical thinking, problem solving, learning strategies, and organizational/study skills, among others ( Monahan et al., 2018 ). Life skills (or nonacademic) readiness can include variables such as communication abilities, interpersonal skills, self-management, creativity/innovation, and conscientiousness, among others ( Morningstar et al., 2017 ). In addition, broader factors such as student motivation/engagement, growth mindset, understanding of postsecondary requirements, and opportunities and supports for post-high school development enhance career and life skills readiness ( Morningstar et al., 2018 ). All of these domains overlap considerably with one another, have been ensconced in educational policies, initiatives, and mandates (e.g., Common Core State Standards; Every Student Succeeds Act), and are considered crucial for employment in a globalized economy ( Malin et al., 2017 ).

Readiness for adulthood also hinges on evolving developmental theory that defines adolescence and emerging adulthood as overlapping, extended phases of growth that precede formal adulthood. Adolescence includes youth in pubertal years as well as youth up to age 24 years who have not yet assumed adult roles due to slower behavioral maturation (e.g., impulsivity; Hochberg and Konner, 2020 ). Emerging adulthood represents youth up to age 28 years who progress toward independence, complex interrelationships, and career trajectories within a volatile period of emotional, neurodevelopmental, and social development ( Wood et al., 2018 ). Evolving concepts of adolescence and emerging adulthood have important ramifications for K-12 educational systems, and thus school attendance, in that many students are not prepared to complete high school with respect to readiness at legally predefined ages (e.g., age 18 years; Duncheon, 2018 ). Instead, many students, and particularly those with disabilities, require extended time for school completion, transition services, and/or continuing academic and vocational training programs to successfully bridge adolescence, emerging adulthood, and formal adulthood ( Lombardi et al., 2020 ).

School attendance relevant to both K-12 and continuing education is a key cornerstone and positive consequence of readiness initiatives ( Hemelt et al., 2019 ). Unfortunately, as mentioned, school attendance problems remain stubbornly elevated among vulnerable student groups worldwide ( Garcia and Weiss, 2018 ). Key reasons for this include, from a systemic perspective, early structural disparities and achievement gaps that are exacerbated over time; and, from an analytic perspective, fewer home-based academic activities and greater mental health challenges and adverse experiences that impede learning. As such, large swaths of youth are ill-prepared for employment and have considerably lower lifetime earning potential than peers who at least completed high school ( Pfeffer, 2008 ; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2020 ).

Readiness for adulthood for all students is the primary outcome chosen here for a theory of change regarding school attendance/absenteeism. Such an outcome will require ample resources, will, and creative educational efforts such as dual enrollment programs, reconfigured high school curricula, sectoral employment strategies, and revised graduation policies to essentially blur the line between completing high school and beginning the adult readiness process (e.g., via vocational training, community college, military service; Spangler and O'Sullivan, 2017 ). Such an outcome also requires a revised approach to understanding school attendance/absenteeism over the next decades. This revised approach involves viewing the readiness transition from adolescence to adulthood as a process and to ensure that this process is equitable for all students and informed by systemic and analytic perspectives.

As mentioned, a theory of change is typically designed in backward fashion; as such, the outputs, or intermediate steps and interventions that can produce identified outcomes, are discussed next. Outputs toward a vision of readiness for adulthood for all students, with specific reference to school attendance/absenteeism, intersect with the present changes described earlier and are arranged according to themes of reframing , social justice , and shared alliances . Each output involves a focus on transitional process, equity, and synthesis of systemic and analytic perspectives to school attendance/absenteeism.

Over the next decades, reframing with respect to school attendance/absenteeism will involve (1) focusing on attendance more than on absenteeism and (2) reconfiguring fundamental definitions of school attendance/absenteeism and school graduation/completion. Such reframing is necessary to accommodate an overall goal of readiness for adulthood for all students by emphasizing inclusivity and school engagement, allowing for an extended developmental period of preparatory education into emerging adulthood, and accounting for massive technological changes in instructional formats expected in the next decades ( Dimitrova and Wiium, 2021 ). Such reframing also requires synthesis of systemic and analytic approaches to school attendance.

The first aspect of reframing involves focusing on attendance more so than on absenteeism . Contemporary school and policy approaches often emphasize punitive measures for absenteeism such as exclusionary discipline (arrest, suspension, and expulsion) and referral to juvenile and criminal justice systems ( McNeely et al., 2021 ). In addition, as mentioned, absenteeism policies are often used to perniciously exclude students with behavioral and academic problems from the educational process ( Mireles-Rios et al., 2020 ). These policies thus derail an overall outcome of readiness for adulthood for many vulnerable students. A focus on absenteeism also tends to place burden for remediation on families and neglects more systemic reasons why many students cannot attend school, such as school closures, lack of timely bus and school assignments, limited access to educational technology, and health-based disparities in services ( U.S. Department of Education, 2018 ). Long-range early warning systems that focus more on absenteeism and dropout are also unstable across student groups and are unlinked to interventions to improve school attendance ( Newman et al., 2019 ).

In contrast, a focus on restorative practices and attendance augments connection and engagement with school. These efforts can do so via systemic school-family-community partnerships as well as analytic health-based strategies to enhance safety, academic growth, mental health, social relationships, family resources, and career development ( Gentle-Genitty et al., 2020 ). These efforts are further supported by large-scale data analytic/mining models in this area that often reveal greater specificity than sensitivity, meaning the models are better at predicting which students attend school rather than which students are absent from school ( Chung and Lee, 2019 ). As such, early warning systems can be designed in accordance with these models to provide a more nuanced, localized, and real-time analysis of attendance patterns. Such systems can be linked as well to attendance dashboards that absorb information from multiple agencies such as housing or public health to better track student attendance (refer also to the shared alliances section; Childs and Grooms, 2018 ; Kearney and Childs, 2022 ).

The second aspect of reframing involves reconfiguring fundamental definitions of school attendance/absenteeism as well as school graduation/completion by adopting broader and more flexible characterizations of these constructs to account for fast-moving changes in educational formats and to better synthesize systemic and analytic perspectives. Contemporary school and policy approaches in this area emphasize traditional metrics such as in-seat class time in a physical building and point-in-time graduation, which are becoming obsolete for many students given expansions in teaching and learning formats as well as evolving developmental theory regarding emerging adulthood. These approaches also rely on archaic, derogatory, and confusing terminologies. For example, the terms “truancy” and “unexcused absences” are rife with multiple and stigmatizing meanings that are applied disproportionately to vulnerable students and include negative connotations regarding delinquency and poverty ( Kearney et al., 2019a ; Martin et al., 2020 ; Pyne et al., 2021 ). In addition, school completion is often viewed more as a singular event (graduation) in adolescence rather than as an ongoing preparatory process into emerging adulthood, thus disenfranchising students who require additional supports. These approaches insufficiently promote an overall outcome of readiness for all students.

Broader and more flexible characterizations of school attendance/problems have been proposed. Patrick and Chambers (2020) redefined school attendance as time on task, participation or evidence of student work, and competency-based attainment with demonstrations of knowledge and skill-building. Kearney (2021) redefined school attendance/problems as involvement in teaching and learning practices that augments or subverts the prospect of school graduation or completion. Both revised definitions broaden school attendance toward engagement that can include cognitive, behavioral, and emotional investment in academic work and progression. The revised definitions also allow for growth metrics such as school achievement that focus on on-track instead of off-track status for students ( Bauer et al., 2018 ). The revised definitions further allow for greater understanding of whether engagement, or lack thereof, could be informed by impairment in school (e.g., academic achievement), social (e.g., interpersonal skills, relationships), and family (e.g., financial cost) domains ( Kearney, 2022 ). Both examples eschew traditional emphases on timeline and physical location and synthesize systemic and analytic perspectives by adopting a mutual language to define school attendance/ absenteeism, incorporating multiple instructional formats (e.g., in-person, hybrid, and online), and allowing for categorical distinctions better informed by dimensional aspects ( Kearney and Gonzálvez, 2022 ).

Broader and more flexible characterizations of school graduation will also be necessary for the next decades. In particular, graduation will need to be viewed more as a process extending potentially into emerging adulthood than as a singular event in adolescence and with an emphasis more on school completion without, necessarily, a predefined timeline. An analogy is the systemic conceptualization of school dropout as an elongated process of school disengagement, declining academic performance, and premature departure from school as opposed to a singular event ( Rumberger and Rotermund, 2012 ). As mentioned, systemic and flexible educational programs that blur the line between end of high school and beginning of adulthood are emerging ( Kearney, 2016 ). In addition, analytic health-based protocols for school attendance problems increasingly incorporate an extended developmental focus such as competencies for emerging adulthood (e.g., independent living skills) that may have been compromised by school absenteeism (e.g., Kearney and Albano, 2018 ). Extension of the school completion process allows for greater transition to readiness in emerging and later adulthood for a greater number of students and assimilates key systemic and analytic developments that emphasize flexibility for conceptualizing school attendance/absenteeism.

Social justice

Over the next century, social justice with respect to school attendance/problems will involve mechanisms and processes ensuring that all students have access to opportunities to achieve readiness for adulthood, in this case via school attendance. Such mechanisms and processes involve (1) removing structural barriers to school attendance, (2) utilizing disaggregated data regarding school attendance/absenteeism, (3) adopting a more inclusive and less deficit- and reductionistic-oriented approach to school attendance/absenteeism among key stakeholders, and (4) advocating for universal access to education. Such mechanisms and processes must involve a synthesis of systemic and analytic perspectives on school attendance/absenteeism.

The first aspect of social justice is removing structural barriers to school attendance , especially for vulnerable students. Recall that barriers in less developed countries include systematic deprivation of educational opportunity for all students often based on gender, ethnic status, poverty, and disability as well as limited qualified instructors and learning materials. Barriers in more developed countries include school closures, inequities in school funding, racial disparities in school discipline, oppressive school climate, victimization, lack of access to school counselors/nurses and mental health care, transportation vulnerability, and restricted access to technological supports for academic endeavors ( Kearney et al., 2022 ).

Over the next decades, efforts to remove structural barriers to school attendance will involve a coordinated effort among school officials, community partners, health professionals, and researchers from systemic and analytic perspectives to examine localized patterns of absenteeism and conditions that contribute most to that absenteeism. A key part of this effort will be to utilize sophisticated data analytic strategies for large data sets to pinpoint root causes of absenteeism for a given community, school, or student group ( Hough, 2019 ). These strategies include algorithm- and model-based strategies designed to reveal predictive patterns or outcomes.

Algorithm-based models establish predictive rules for a given outcome such as absenteeism that can also identify key barriers to attendance. These models have been used to identify specific barriers such as delays in assigning new schools following residential changes, safety concerns at school, lack of transportation, grade retention, teacher turnover, and lack of certain courses needed for graduation (e.g., Deitrick et al., 2015 ). These analyses can also be used to provide predictive information for certain developmental levels/grades, student groups, and schools and classrooms ( Newman et al., 2019 ). Model-based analyses identify relationships or clusters among variables related to absenteeism. Such approaches have also helped identify key barriers to school attendance in certain locations such as food and housing insecurity, elevated school suspension rates, and entry into juvenile/criminal justice systems (e.g., Coughenour et al., 2021 ).

The second aspect of social justice is focusing on disaggregated data regarding school attendance and absenteeism . Contemporary school and policy approaches emphasize aggregated data across various student groups to evaluate progress in a given area, such as overall graduation rates across schools or districts. A frequent tactic is to rely on cutoffs to determine acceptable levels of overall attendance rates for a school or district, such as 90% ( Durham et al., 2019 ). Reliance on aggregated data and cutoffs, however, discounts nuanced sources of information pertinent to targeted intervention efforts, such as timing of absences, information from other relevant agencies (e.g., housing and public health), qualitative data, and information on long-range attendance patterns ( Falissard et al., 2022 ; Kearney and Childs, 2022 ; Keppens, 2022 ). Reliance on aggregated data and cutoffs also discounts broader factors related to absenteeism such as lack of safe transportation to school, ignores attendance rates parsed by student group, and fails to inform effective interventions ( Hutt, 2018 ). Reliance on aggregated data also fails to capture important, nuanced, historical information for a given community that can be critical for addressing broader issues related to school attendance and absenteeism.

Over the next decades, efforts to address school attendance/absenteeism will focus on disaggregated data to better identify high-risk groups, focus on a continuum of school attendance/absenteeism, and include growth metrics to enhance school accountability efforts ( Bauer et al., 2018 ). Disaggregated data as opposed to cutoffs will help identify specific student groups, often those with intersecting risk factors, most in need of services. Examples include students of various racial and ethnic groups with certain health problems, students who are English language learners living in impoverished neighborhoods, students with disabilities without transportation to school, and migrant students with varying degrees of assimilation into a particular school ( Childs and Grooms, 2018 ). Alternatives to cutoffs will require synthesis of systemic and analytic approaches by adopting diverse disaggregation strategies such as conducting needs assessments, data system reconfigurations, and case studies in educational agencies ( National Forum on Education Statistics, 2016 ).

The use of disaggregated data also allows for greater consideration of a continuum of school attendance/absenteeism. Although many schools rely on full-day presence or absence from school, school attendance/absenteeism more accurately also includes partial absences (e.g., tardiness, skipped classes, or parts of a school day) and difficulties attending school (e.g., morning behavior problems to miss school and distress during a school day; Kearney et al., 2019a ). Reliance on full-day absences also penalizes students who are late to school due to transportation and other problems outside their control ( Chang, 2018 ). A focus on a continuum as opposed to full-day absences allows for more granular attendance coding, especially for online or hybrid learning environments and for vulnerable students, that supports a standards-based or competency-oriented progression with respect to academic progress and eventual school completion ( National Forum on Education Statistics, 2021 ).

A focus on disaggregated data also permits greater use of growth or on-track metrics to enhance school accountability regarding specific student groups ( Leventhal et al., 2022 ). Growth metrics can include school metrics related to climate and academic quality, achievement metrics related to academic progress (including attendance), and protective metrics related to school engagement and other variables that propel students toward school completion ( Zaff et al., 2017 ). These metrics are better suited for proactive practices to identify specific students drifting off track and in need of resources and moving away from reactive, punitive, and often discriminatory absenteeism policies that exclude students from the educational process ( Spruyt et al., 2017 ; Bauer et al., 2018 ). Growth metrics also synthesize systemic and analytic approaches in this area by emphasizing academic and non-academic variables.

The third aspect of social justice is adopting a more inclusive and less deficit- or reductionistic-oriented approaches among key stakeholders . Contemporary research, policy, and educational practices emphasize specific risk factors for school attendance problems involving youth and caregivers ( Conry and Richards, 2018 ). Examples include mental, behavioral, and learning challenges; caregiver strategies; and family dynamics (e.g., Roué et al., 2021 ). As such, researchers and other stakeholders disproportionately place blame and burden for remediating school attendance problems on students and their families, especially for vulnerable groups ( Grooms and Bohorquez, 2022 ). Less attention is paid to broader factors outside a family’s control such as structural barriers to school attendance or school and community factors ( Gubbels et al., 2019 ). Indeed, students often report that problems with the physical and social school environment impact their attendance more so than home-based experiences ( Corcoran and Kelly, 2022 ). School attendance/absenteeism constructs are instead, however, often framed within a deficit narrative.

Over the next decades, a more inclusive approach to school attendance/problems will include better recognition of broader contextual factors other than student and family variables that contribute to separation from the educational process. This will include consideration of various ecological levels associated with school attendance and absenteeism that involve both proximal and distal factors. Microsystem-level or proximal factors are often the focus of researchers and school personnel and are valid predictors of school absenteeism; examples include mental health challenges, limited parent involvement, and learning disorders. A more inclusive and less stigmatizing approach to school attendance/problems will involve greater analysis of, and integration with, broader ecological levels. Examples include interactions among microsystem variables such as caregiver-teacher communications (mesosystem), indirect influences of social structures such as caregiver unemployment and housing insecurity (exosystem), and cultural and policy influences such as neighborhood violence and exclusionary disciplinary practices (macrosystem; Singer et al., 2021 ). Developmental cascade models can also blend systemic/proximal and analytic/distal variables of causation for school attendance/absenteeism across multiple ecological levels ( Kearney, 2021 ).

Key stakeholders will also better recognize that missing school is often an adaptive option for many students. Examples include pursuing employment or caring for siblings to assist one’s family, avoiding victimizing or repressive school environments, or rejecting an academic system biased against certain student groups with respect to academic and social opportunities and disciplinary policies ( Kohli et al., 2017 ). Absence from school is thus not “disordered” in nature for many students. In related fashion, epistemic injustice in many educational institutions worldwide means that student knowledge and expression of local/indigenous contexts, practices, and culture are suppressed in favor of a dominant and oppressive orientation ( Elicor, 2020 ). Adopting an ecological, developmental, and equitable approach to school attendance/absenteeism thus requires synthesizing systemic and analytic perspectives with respect to racial inequality, implicit bias, and structural disadvantage.

The fourth aspect of social justice is advocating for universal access to education . Stakeholders in the next decades must pursue a more active advocacy agenda, in particular for vulnerable students worldwide who are deprived of an education. Such advocacy can occur at a systemic level, as when national and international organizations denounce educational oppression and promote the basic right to education. Such advocacy can also occur at the individual level, as when various professionals help students reconnect with the educational process after having been derailed by injustices and exclusionary and biased policies.

Shared alliances

Over the next decades, school absenteeism will be increasingly and accurately viewed as a wicked problem that is highly intertwined and relentless across communities and generations ( Childs and Lofton, 2021 ). Contemporary approaches to school attendance/problems are quite siloed across disciplines, but progression toward a postmodern era involves shared alliances among key agencies and stakeholders to address the complexities inherent in school attendance/absenteeism. Manifestations of these shared alliances include (1) multiagency tracking of students, (2) coordinated early warning and intervention systems, and (3) community asset mapping coupled with long-range intercession planning across generations. Shared alliances with respect to these manifestations necessarily involve partnerships among those from systemic and analytic perspectives, such as between policymakers who mandate school attendance practices and researchers and others who generate data to inform best practices in education and school attendance ( Iftimescu et al., 2020 ).

Multiagency tracking of students refers to collaboration among educational, governmental, public health, and other key community entities to better trace students who are separated from the educational process. Frequent reasons for separation include housing insecurity and residential mobility. Mechanisms of multiagency tracking include sharing data, liaisons, and office spaces among departments, meeting regularly to define appropriate metrics, and expanding criteria for those selected for assistance programs ( Welsh, 2018 ). Multiagency collaboration can also address key drivers of absenteeism related to housing insecurity via rental assistance and transportation to a previous school. Such collaboration can align with existing multiagency efforts for adult readiness ( Sambolt and Balestreri, 2013 ) and requires coalitions among those from systemic (e.g., public housing) and analytic (e.g., school counselor) perspectives.

Coordinated early warning and intervention systems refer to mechanisms by which students are identified as at-risk for short-range absenteeism or long-range school dropout, coupled with strategies to ameliorate risk and enhance school attendance for these students. Short-term risk for a given academic year can be quantified based on local conditions such as a particular school, whereas long-term risk over several years can be quantified for larger educational agencies across districts or states/provinces ( Balfanz and Byrnes, 2019 ). Risk factors thus often include broader variables such as school disengagement and academic progress as well as specific variables such as accommodation plans and newness to a school, thus blending systemic and analytic approaches ( Chu et al., 2019 ). Early warning/intervention systems can be also linked to adult readiness programs by incorporating readiness indicators such as enrollment in career/technical programs or dual high school/college courses ( National Forum on Education Statistics, 2018 ).

Community asset mapping with long-range intercession planning across generations refers to identifying and obtaining resources from businesses, individuals, and service and educational agencies to form family-school-community partnerships to enhance school attendance and adult readiness, particularly for vulnerable students ( Kearney and Graczyk, 2022 ). Key mechanisms include mentoring, tutoring, skills development, mental health support, and academic enrichment and adult readiness programs. Such partnerships are particularly useful for high-risk groups such as students who are homeless or those with disabilities ( Griffin and Farris, 2010 ) and can include support for families across generations. The partnerships blend systemic and analytic approaches to school attendance/absenteeism and support a developmental focus with respect to college and career readiness programs for underserved adolescents ( Gee et al., 2021 ).

As mentioned, a theory of change is typically designed in backward fashion; as such, the inputs, or current conditions and initiatives that can serve as the impetus for the outputs, are discussed next. Key inputs in the contemporary era include (1) movement of educational agencies worldwide toward readiness for adulthood, (2) technological advances, and (3) schools and communities as one. Each input directly supports avenues toward reframing, social justice, and shared alliances as well as increased synthesis of systemic and analytic perspectives with respect to school attendance/absenteeism.

Movement of educational agencies toward readiness for adulthood

The World Economic Forum Education 4.0 Framework emphasizes skills (global citizenship, innovation and creativity, technology, and interpersonal) and forms of learning (personalized and self-paced, accessible and inclusive, problem-based and collaborative, lifelong, and student-driven) necessary for adult readiness ( World Economic Forum, 2020 ). As mentioned, education and pedagogy are moving away from the Industrial Revolution model of memorization and standardization to a whole child/citizen education approach for postmodern globalization. Movement of educational agencies in this direction has implications for school attendance/absenteeism vis-à-vis the outputs described above.

With respect to reframing , school attendance is increasingly viewed as participation and engagement in instructional formats, including online and hybrid formats, that augment readiness for adulthood in more flexible and accessible ways. Alternative codes for attendance in this new context include number of hours per day; log-ins to virtual learning; student-teacher interactions; completion of assignments; measures of competency, mastery, and achievement (skills and knowledge); and meeting timelines for course objectives ( National Forum on Education Statistics, 2021 ). In addition, the proliferation of online, technical, skills training, and other nontraditional education programs available to those in emerging adulthood, including mechanisms to address the needs of students with disabilities and to simultaneously complete primary education while initiating these programs, propels a greater focus on participation/attendance than on absenteeism and set graduation times ( U.S. Department of Education, 2012 ). Moreover, ongoing educational disciplinary reforms recognizing the disparate punitive nature of truancy and related policies require a shift in emphasis from absenteeism to participation/ attendance ( Gentle-Genitty et al., 2020 ).

With respect to social justice , school attendance is increasingly framed as an access issue and as a key pathway to address entrenched inequalities. A key foundational principle in this regard is assuring the right to quality education throughout the lifespan, including the right to access and contribute to bodies of knowledge and to participate in discussions about education ( UNESCO, 2021 ). Learning frameworks are moving toward enhanced student agency to remove barriers to education, provide personalized learning environments to boost access to education, and ensure literacy and numeracy for as many as possible ( OECD, 2018 ). Researchers have also begun integrating global social justice variables in their models of school attendance/absenteeism, particularly with respect to migration, racial and income inequality, economic policies and opportunities, labor markets, violence, food insecurity, and healthcare ( Keppens and Spruyt, 2018 ; Kearney et al., 2019b ).

With respect to shared alliances , the emergence of family-school-community partnerships to address the needs of vulnerable students also allows for mechanisms to coordinate tracking, assessment, and early intervention services ( Benoit et al., 2018 ). Such partnerships often involve incorporating a set of community agencies into the school setting to reduce stigma, transportation problems, cost, wait time, and other barriers and thus draw students and their families. Such a process enhances the ability to identify families absent from this process, address family needs that supersede school attendance, and map community assets tailored best to a school’s jurisdiction ( Iftimescu et al., 2020 ).

Technological advances

As mentioned, myriad technological changes are occurring in education and include augmented reality, metaverse, artificial intelligence, social media, biometrics, cloud computing, multi-touch surfaces, 3D printing, hand-held devices, applications, blockchain, and gamification. Such changes obviously impact instructional formats and settings, learning strategies, communications, student-teacher relationships, and other core aspects of the educational process. These changes carry risks, such as unequal access to equipment and connectivity, as well as benefits such as reduced barriers and extension of education on a continuum from childhood to adolescence to emerging and later adulthood. Technological advances also have important ramifications for school attendance/absenteeism over the next decades.

With respect to reframing , technological advances that include remote learning are necessarily compelling educational agencies to reconfigure metrics for school attendance/absenteeism, as noted above. In addition, technological advances allow for enhanced attendance tracking, feedback to caregivers, and data accumulation for learning analytic practices, though privacy concerns remain relevant. The advances also allow for more nimble interventions and pinpointed root cause analyses of attendance and absenteeism patterns for a given jurisdiction ( Center for Education Policy Research, 2021 ). Various technologies also facilitate real-time communications between school counselors, caregivers, and mental health professionals at an analytic level or for designing proactive measures to boost school attendance at a systemic level ( Cook et al., 2017 ).

With respect to social justice , technological advances certainly have the potential to reinforce oppressive systems as well as a digital divide ( Elena-Bucea et al., 2021 ). Constructed properly, however, technological advances have the potential to increase access to education and reduce barriers to school attendance via mechanisms that provide students with multiple ways of engaging the same material, expressing academic work, and accessing options to learn a particular competency or skill, even into emerging and later adulthood ( U.S. Department of Education, 2017 ). Technological advances also enhance cross-cultural classrooms to build relationships and exchange skills while empowering and drawing more youth into the educational process ( Marx and Kim, 2019 ).

With respect to shared alliances , technological advances allow multiple agencies to better coordinate data systems by enhancing value and mitigating risk and friction that inhibit sharing. Advances in cloud computing, encryption, interoperability, data directories, execution environments, and artificial intelligence are used in this regard. Such developments will be particularly necessary for those agencies most pertinent to school attendance/absenteeism that have historically not collaborated and thus have quite disparate data sets, such as schools, medical centers, public housing agencies, legal systems, and developmental services ( Kearney and Benoit, 2022 ).

Schools and communities as one

As mentioned, the future of education will increasingly involve a blending and shifting of traditional school-based with home and community settings. Various mechanisms already exist for this process, sometimes derived from emergency and disaster contingency planning (such as following climate change events), that include formats for blended and self-learning, multiple learning modalities, online social networking, media broadcasts, and home- and nonprofit agency-based instruction ( Lennox et al., 2021 ). Other mechanisms include a greater reliance in education on community-based service and experiential learning, internships, practicum placements, portfolios, vocational and field work, and other applied demonstrations of academic competency that do not require traditional attendance in a physical building ( Filges et al., 2022 ).

Systemic and analytic approaches have also been moving toward school-based service delivery frameworks based on levels of support for different student needs that integrate school and community resources. Integrated multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) models emphasize Tier 1 universal or primary prevention practices to promote adaptive behavior and deter maladaptive behavior; Tier 2 early, selective intervention or secondary prevention practices to address emerging and less severe problems; and Tier 3 intensive intervention or tertiary prevention practices to address chronic and severe problems. Strategies for school attendance/problems include systemic and analytic elements such as school dropout prevention and screening practices (Tier 1), mentoring and clinical practices (Tier 2), and alternative educational and specialized care practices (Tier 3; Kearney and Graczyk, 2020 ).

With respect to reframing , MTSS models themselves represent a transformative change by adopting sustainable school improvement practices and outcomes and eschewing “wait-to-fail” achievement-discrepancy frameworks to assess student growth. As such, interactive environmental factors (e.g., curricula and school responses) receive as much if not more emphasis than student factors for academic progress, behavior, and skills. Such an approach allows for a broader reframing of school absenteeism toward efforts to enhance school attendance via incentives, positive climate, and policy review as well as growth metrics for school accountability purposes. MTSS models are also amenable to long-term educational initiatives such as transition services that enhance readiness into emerging adulthood for all students ( Osgood et al., 2010 ).

With respect to social justice , MTSS models can be a means to enhance equity among student groups because the models (1) rely on data-driven processes to drive continuous improvements to instruction and other outcomes, (2) include all students in a given school, and (3) specifically provide intensive services for at-risk students ( Fien et al., 2021 ). MTSS models are compatible with disaggregated data and learning analytic approaches to personalize learning experiences for individual students and include proactive preventative approaches instead of reactive, often punitive approaches. The models are also amenable to culturally responsive practices by welcoming traditionally marginalized students, validating student home cultures and communities, nurturing student cultural identities, promoting advocacy, and resisting deficit-oriented constructions of student performance ( Khalifa et al., 2016 ).

With respect to shared alliances , MTSS models depend on cross-system collaborations that include members of systemic and analytic approaches. Systems of care for youth and their families often include educational, primary care/community mental health, legal, and developmental systems. MTSS models utilize team-based approaches across these systems; examples include community mental health professionals within schools, hybrid truancy court practices, and linkage of preschool supports with early grade accommodations, especially for students with disabilities ( Kearney, 2016 ). Other key collaborators include researchers for expertise and technical support, external participating agencies for student tracking and progress monitoring (early warning) and service provision, and community stakeholders for asset mapping. Indeed, a key shared alliance for the future will involve partnerships between academia, industry, and other stakeholders (e.g., Heyne et al., 2020 ; Rocha et al., 2022 ).

Much is known about school attendance/absenteeism but we live in unprecedented times of rapid systemic shifts in basic human functioning. New visions are needed. The theory of change for school attendance/absenteeism presented here offers one possible compass that outlines how contemporary forces could shape key outputs that themselves could produce desirable long-range outcomes over the next decades. The theory is designed as a starting point for discussion among various stakeholders in this area, particularly those from disparate systemic and analytic perspectives. Agreement on long-term outcomes can help crystallize cohesive narratives that can then influence policy and educational and health-based practice. Such agreement also allows for frameworks specifically crafted to include all youth in the educational process. At the same time, the theory of change outlined here is designed to be flexible enough in a constructivist fashion to be fitted to jurisdictions worldwide that differ tremendously in their approaches to education, law, research, and child development. We invite commentary and input into the crystal ball.

Author contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords: school attendance, school absenteeism, truancy, school dropout, theory of change, readiness for adulthood

Citation: Kearney CA, Benoit L, Gonzálvez C and Keppens G (2022) School attendance and school absenteeism: A primer for the past, present, and theory of change for the future. Front. Educ . 7:1044608. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2022.1044608

Received: 14 September 2022; Accepted: 17 October 2022; Published: 07 November 2022.

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Copyright © 2022 Kearney, Benoit, Gonzálvez and Keppens. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Christopher A. Kearney, [email protected]

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The Unlearning of School Attendance: Ideas for Change

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  • Published: 23 April 2018

Reducing student absences at scale by targeting parents’ misbeliefs

  • Todd Rogers   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5904-5439 1 &
  • Avi Feller 2  

Nature Human Behaviour volume  2 ,  pages 335–342 ( 2018 ) Cite this article

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Student attendance is critical to educational success, and is increasingly the focus of educators, researchers and policymakers. We report the results of a randomized experiment examining interventions targeting student absenteeism. Parents of 28,080 high-risk students in grades kindergarten to 12th grade received one of three personalized information treatments repeatedly throughout the school year or received no additional information (control). The most effective versions reduced chronic absenteeism by 10% or more, partly by correcting parents’ biased beliefs about their children’s total accumulated absences. The intervention reduced student absences comparably across grade levels, and reduced absences among untreated cohabiting students in treated households. This intervention is easy to scale and is more than one order of magnitude more cost effective than current absence-reduction best practices. Educational interventions that inform and empower parents, such as the one reported here, can complement more intensive student-focused absenteeism interventions.

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We thank the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Pershing Square Venture Fund for Research on the Foundations of Human Behavior and IES/ICF/REL MidAtlantic number 14JTSK0003 for funding support. We thank J. Lasky-Fink, J. Ternovski and S. Subramanyam for research support. We thank T. Wolford, A. Reitano and W. Hite for district partnership and collaboration. We thank B. Balfanz, G. Basse, M. Bazerman, P. Bergman, H. Chang, L. Coffman, D. Deming, C. Fox, H. Gehlbach, A. Gelber, F. Gino, E. Glaeser, M. Gottfried, D. Green, H. Hoynes, L. John, G. King, D. Laibson, M. Laitin, S. Mullainathan, M. Norton, L. Page, L. Pierce, S. Reardon and J. Schwartzstein for feedback on earlier drafts. No funders had any role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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T.R. and A.F. designed the experiment, oversaw data analysis and wrote the manuscript.

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The authors declare that they had no competing financial interests while this project was being conducted. In the light of the results of this and other projects, T.R. and A.F. started an organization to help US schools implement this intervention to reduce student absenteeism. It is called In Class Today and worked with two school districts at the time of initial submission, including the school district in which the experiment reported in this manuscript was conducted—SDP.

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Rogers, T., Feller, A. Reducing student absences at scale by targeting parents’ misbeliefs. Nat Hum Behav 2 , 335–342 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-018-0328-1

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On Time: A Qualitative Study of Swedish Students’, Parents’ and Teachers’ Views on School Attendance, with a Focus on Tardiness

Maria warne.

1 Department of Health Sciences, Mid Sweden University, 831 25 Östersund, Sweden; [email protected] (Å.S.); [email protected] (E.W.)

Åsa Svensson

Lina tirén.

2 Östersund Municipality, Children and Education Administration, 831 85 Östersund, Sweden

Tardiness is a common problem in many schools. It can be understood as an individual risk for future problematic behavior leading to absenteeism, school dropout, exclusion and later health problems. Tardiness can also be examined in relation to a broader social-ecological perspective on health. The aim of this study was to analyze students’, school staff’s and parents’ views on students’ tardiness in two Swedish schools. A focus group interview design was used with 21 school personnel, 21 students in grade nine and two parents. The data were analyzed by using thematic content analysis. The results illustrated the main theme—It depends on…—regarding what will happen if a student arrives late to school lessons. This finding is further explained by the subthemes about teachers’ signals and reactions and the responses from teachers and students. The conclusion showed the importance of organizing the school day more predictably for the students. Late arrival is a sign of shortcomings in a school organization. It is necessary to develop guidelines related to how to handle students’ late arrival based on predictable viewpoints but even more so on how to promote students’ sense of belonging and their interest in and motivation for going to school.

1. Introduction

School is one of the most important environments for children and young people. We also know that there is a connection between education and perceived health [ 1 ]. Most students report good health, but the number of students reporting mental illness is increasing, as is the number of students who cannot reach their school goals [ 2 ]. A systematic review of research on the relationship among health, learning, and mental illness by Gustafsson et al. [ 1 ] pointed out several factors related to school performance where school failure and lack of social support were important factors. However, there is less knowledge about the relationship between adolescent adjustments and the role of family involvement in students’ school attendance.

The present study focuses on students’ tardiness within the social and cultural context at school and within families. That is, tardiness can be understood as maladjustment related to various negative effects on academic results and social relations [ 3 , 4 ]. Adolescent adjustment includes attitudes, behaviors, cognitive- and social aspects specifically when it comes to the students’ abilities to adapt within the school environment [ 5 , 6 ]. The students’ adjustment describes the extent to which the student is committed to the school and accepted in the social milieu [ 5 ]. Previous research has found positive relations between a high degree of school adjustment and the results in school and social relations within school [ 3 , 7 ].

Regarding adjustment, scholars have pinpointed the importance of the family [ 8 , 9 , 10 ]. Parenting characterized by the use of reasoning and warmth can contribute as a protective factor when it comes to adolescent adjustment [ 7 , 10 ]. Support from parents is associated with better results in school [ 8 ]. In previous research, tardiness has been understood as the expression of risk for future problematic behavior that could lead to absenteeism, school dropout, exclusion, and later health problems [ 11 ].

We will examine tardiness in relation to a broader framework based on a social-ecological perspective [ 12 ], meaning that the physical, social and cultural dimensions of students’ health evolve in a complex interaction among the environment, organizations, and individuals. The social-ecological theory also appears in the action area of Ottawa’s charter [ 13 ], where to build a supportive environment for health is described as actions that “offer people protection from threats to health and enable people to expand their capabilities and develop self-reliance in health. They encompass where people live, their local community, their homes, where they work and play, including peoples’ access to resources for health and opportunities for empowerment”. This action area has been a platform for the development of healthy cities, schools, neighborhoods and other settings for daily life and activities [ 14 , 15 ]. Scholars have found that to be successful as a health-promoting school, collaboration, e.g., with the local community and parents, is crucial [ 16 , 17 , 18 ]. Hence, we focus not on the specific individual student and his/her behavior but, rather, on the interaction among students, families and school staff from a social-ecological theory perspective related to the school and to the implications useful for developing a supportive environment for students’ health and learning.

1.1. Absenteeism

Many factors influence student achievement, directly and indirectly. Students who are absent from school are a major problem in Sweden [ 19 ] and in many other countries [ 20 , 21 ]. Swedish headmasters reported that during 2015, 1.7 per mille of all students in grades 1 to 9 were reported absent for a month or more, but 18.5 per mille (or 18,361 students) were reported as being absent now and then (The Swedish Schools Inspectorate, 2016). PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) (2016) reported that nine percent of respondents, aged 15, said they had skipped school one day or more over the last two weeks [ 22 ].

The definitions of absenteeism or truancy are not consistent. Kearny [ 23 ] suggested the term “school refusal behavior” as an umbrella that covers constructs related to children not going to or coming late to school. He illustrated this as a continuum of truancy going from “school attendance under duress and pleas for non-attendance” to “complete absence from school for an extended period of time” [ 24 ], p. 60. The third step along this continuum is tardiness in the morning followed by attendance. However, Kearny meant that a student could move along the continuum and, for example, go from tardiness in the morning to “complete absence…” or to “school attendance under duress…”. Truancy includes all students that have “successfully” missed school and those who tried to miss school but had not yet reached their goal [ 23 ]. Truancy must be understood as the complex result of different structural systems around the child, the family, and the school [ 25 ]. It begins when the child is young, often in primary school, and it causes harm, especially to the truants themselves; moreover, it is costly (ibid.) Reid [ 25 ] also found that parents and students realized the problem caused by the school environment and that teachers believe that parents’ attitudes and the home environment were more influential. In their study, Heyne et al. [ 26 ] differentiate between Truancy (TR), School Refusal (SR), School Withdrawal (SW), and School Exclusion (SE). TR captures the problem of a child who does not want to go to school, lacks motivation and has a negative attitude but does not include late arrival. SR differs from TR, whereby the child wants to go to school but finds it too difficult, and this category might include a late arrival, while SW is related to parents versus school-based reasons. However, Heyne and colleagues, differing from Reid’s findings, found that late arrival or missing school is not concealed from the parents [ 26 ].

Based on Kearny’s continuum, one should pay attention to tardiness as an imaginary part of a behavior that can develop into school absenteeism, which in turn increases the risk of dropping out [ 11 ], school failure, long-lasting associations with crime, and problematic health behavior [ 27 ].

1.2. Specific on Tardiness

Tardiness is not a new phenomenon, nor is it a problem limited to students at school. Tardiness or lateness to work has been considered a facet of undisciplined behavior related to maturity or motivation, e.g., by Edralin [ 28 ]. On the other hand, the use of flexible work time has become more common, and this opportunity for employees appears to reduce lateness behavior [ 29 ]. Previous studies on tardiness at school are limited, although it has been a research topic since 1930, e.g., Lockwood [ 30 ]. More recent studies, carried out nearly 75 years later by Gottfried [ 31 ] in the US, show that tardiness is a risk for school achievement in math and reading not only for individual students but also for their classroom peers. In addition, students who arrive late to the classroom pose a risk for others being tardy (ibid.). In a study of 250 junior high school students, Gottfried [ 31 ] found that on average, boys were tardy more frequently than girls, but that half the students in the school had no incidence of tardiness.

Fifteen-year-old students from OECD member countries were asked about truancy and late arrival at school [ 22 ]. The average percentage of students in OECD countries being late once or twice during the last two weeks was 29 percent. The average percentage of students being late more than five times during the last two weeks was 7.3 percent. The average percentage of students who are never late was 55 percent. Never arriving late was at a lower level in Sweden, as reported by 45.5 percent of the students, and 32.6 percent reported late arrival once or twice during the last two weeks. Punctuality was best in Japan and Korea, where between 80 and 90 percent reported that they never arrive late [ 22 ], p. 304. Girls and boys are reported in the same group.

In the mid-fifties, D’Amico [ 32 ] published an article about teachers’ perspectives on and treatment of tardiness. He found that the way teachers handled tardiness varied: some administered punishments, others took no action. The strategies were sorted into two categories: laissez-faire or punitive. Contemporary studies on tardiness interventions at school are in line with D’Amico’s two main perspectives: (1) reduce negative behavior or (2) strengthen positive behavior. To strengthen a positive behavior, in order to arrive on time at school, Freeman et al. [ 33 ] found evidence in their review of skills training and family support but also of incentive-training, where students earned points for both attending class and arriving to class on time. Earned points could be used for movie tickets, school supplies, and restaurants [ 34 ]. Other examples include an intervention through which a US high school has a delayed start time, according to Thacher and Onyper [ 35 ]. Ugwuegbulam and Naheed Ibrahim [ 36 ] relate that punishment is a common strategy to reduce lateness behavior among students in Nigeria. However, they decided to change this behavior by using a fun perspective by introducing a game they played with students who came late to school four times or more within an observation time of two weeks (i.e., ten school days). The game was presented in a welcoming manner: “Good friends, this group is ours, it belongs to us. We are here to play a game in a purely friendly manner. As we play the game, we discuss. Our discussion, which will be on lateness to school issues should be within us, that is, what we discuss here should be confidential” [ 36 ], p. 143. The game method has not yet been evaluated, but this is an example of teachers trying to develop new strategies to motivate students to be on time.

To reduce negative behavior, Tyre et al. [ 37 ] implemented the START on Time programme (Safe and Civil Schools Series), including different kinds of punishments in four steps and levels. The first step is sending parents a postcard about a student being late; the second is the student having no lunch if he/she is late again; the third involves activities such as cleaning desks and vacuuming carpets; and the final step, reached if a student is tardy more than 12 times, involves a conference with a parent or guardian, and the student is required to meet with a panel of tribal elders regarding his or her attendance. The evaluation shows that, compared to the average per day and per month prior to implementation, there was a 67 percent decrease in average daily tardiness rates (ibid.).

1.3. The Swedish School System

The Swedish school system involves one mandatory preschool year followed by nine years of compulsory school or until the child is 15 years old. The assignment to the schools from the government is to effect compensatory work [ 38 ]. This means that schools are responsible for providing equal access to education and for compensating for differences in the students’ capacity. It also means that the entire school system shall minimize the negative effects ofstudents’ backgrounds on achievement and give them an equal opportunity to learn [ 39 , 40 ]. The Swedish school organization is responsible for creating a good learning environment for students’ personal development and the development of their knowledge [ 38 ]. This includes promoting efforts and projects to increase students’ attendance and thereby minimize absence in education. It requires systematic work based on a regular review of their own organization and content based on knowledge of the factors that promote student learning and development. The efforts must include all students.

How the school’s working environment is designed can in itself promote presence or contribute to absence. A good learning environment, with teaching adapted to the individual student’s needs, promotes motivation to participate in education. The participation of students in the work of promoting presence can be effected in many different ways. They must participate in the work of creating a common approach to late arrival and determine what will be considered an invalid absence [ 38 , 39 ].

In summary, we have discovered that there is a gap in research in regard to studies about tardiness in school, even though it is well known that early identification of student tardiness increases the opportunities of detecting and preventing a problematic behavior that could eventually lead to absenteeism, school dropout, exclusion, and later health problems [ 3 ]. In addition, there is a lack of research on how absence and/or tardiness among students effects education and the work environment for the other students and the teachers, and vice versa [ 41 ]. For example, tardiness is often explained in relation to individual behavior, such as children’s sleeping behavior [ 42 ], and is seldom related to a school context. We argue that tardiness is overlooked in research and practical work related to health promotion in school. Moreover, we claim that tardiness, as a phenomenon, is overlooked. In terms of a social-ecological perspective on health [ 43 ] and a critical perspective on health promotion [ 44 , 45 ], it is crucial to include perspectives on who is most affected: the student. However, most research in this field appears to be based on statistical analyses of absenteeism [ 19 , 46 ].

Thus, there is a research gap in regard to including the student’s own perspective on attendance, absence and tardiness, as well as a lack of studies that include stories of those who are part of the social setting of students at risk of absenteeism (i.e., teachers, school administration, personnel working in health-related capacities among students, parents, etc.). Given this background, the goal of the present study is to contribute knowledge about tardiness that can be useful in strengthening practical work at school from a health promotion perspective. Its aim is to analyze students’, school staff’s and parents’ views on students’ tardiness.

2. Materials and Methods

To study students’, school staff’s and parents’ views on students’ tardiness, a focus group interview design was chosen. To this end, we created groups of participants and provided instructions regarding discussion themes [ 47 , 48 , 49 ]. Examples of interview questions to parents and teachers include: “What do you think promotes students’ school attendance? and “How do you perceive the responsibility of the school in relation to students’ school attendance?” To the students: “Does it ever happen that you arrive late to school? ”and “When does it feel good to come to school?” Two researchers participated in each interview: one led the discussion while the other handled the audio recorder, took notes and observed [ 50 ].

2.1. Participants and Procedures

This study took place from January to June 2017 in a mid-sized town in the northern part of Sweden. The schools were located in a suburban area primarily comprising middle-income households. The participating schools were both compulsory schools. From the age of six, Swedish children are allowed to start primary school and most of them do so; from seven to fifteen years of age, school is compulsory. The first school (A), with approximately 200 pupils, went from primary class to grade 5. The second school (B), with approximately 350 pupils, included grades 6 to 9. The headmaster at the school with the younger children (A) selected nine school staff members (teachers, assistants; two men and seven women) who participated in a focus group lasting one hour.

At the school for students in grades 6 to 9 (B), the research group introduced themselves to the staff, presented the study, and asked for volunteers for the focus groups. Staff were also given an information letter and a list was left in the staff room so they could sign up for the focus group. A total of twelve school staff members accepted the invitation. They were divided into two groups: one with the school health team (SHT, including the headmaster, school nurse, psychologist, school welfare officer, and special pedagogue; two men and five women) and one with teachers (two men and three women). All parents at school B were invited by e-mail, and three of them accepted. One of them was prevented from participating, so the interview was carried out with two parents.

Based on Swedish ethical law, teenagers aged 15 are mature enough to decide on being research participants [ 51 ]. Therefore, only students of that age were invited to participate in the study. This was also decided because students in grade nine have the most years of school experience. One of the authors introduced the study to the students in class and asked for participants. The author also spoke with the students about the study during breaks and reminded them of the study and invitation. Twenty-one students in grade nine (14 boys and seven girls) accepted the invitation. Mindful of Wernersson and Ve’s [ 52 ] finding that boys tend to dominate girls in groups and of the overrepresentation of boys who wanted to participate, we generated two single-sex groups and one mixed group. The students decided on their own if they wanted to be in the single-sex or mixed group. Group 1 included nine boys, group 2 included five girls and group 3 was a mixed group (two girls and five boys).

All interviews except one were held during the day in a separate room in the school building. The parents were interviewed in the evening in the school library. The two focus groups with teachers lasted from 60 to 90 min, the focus group with the school health team lasted 60 min, and the focus group with the parents and pupils lasted 30 to 40 min. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim by an independent transcriber.

2.2. Analysis

The material was analyzed in order to determine which themes best describe the content, by using a process inspired by Braun and Clarke [ 53 ]. In the analysis, all transcripts were initially read by three of the authors independently. Based on these readings, themes describing underlying aspects of the stories told were constructed. That is, specific parts of the transcripts were highlighted and grouped as the analysis was conducted. During this process, delimitations were constantly discussed and challenged in the research group. The researchers also noted down their thoughts and interpretations while reading the material. The themes were carefully reviewed several times before arriving at a result. One overarching theme and three subthemes are the focus of the reported results. These subthemes are not mutually exclusive; rather, the subthemes overlap, as one leads to the other. Together they tell a story about students’, staff’s and parents’ views on tardiness. The themes should be viewed as representing patterns of shared meaning throughout the interview transcripts. The original spoken language in the interviews was Swedish. At the end of the analysis process, the results, including quotations, were translated into English.

2.3. Research Ethics

At the outset, all participants were given oral and written information about the project and were informed of their right to withdraw at any time without explanation or negative consequences. All participants signed an informed consent.

The Regional Ethical Review Board in Umeå, Sweden, found that the study was not covered by the Ethical Review Act and did not consider the study as an issue of ethical concern (2017/154-31).

We began our study with the concept of being present in or attending school and class. During an interview with two parents (school B), both mothers, the importance of students being on time for school and class were emphasized. The parents viewed school attendance from a broad perspective and on various levels. That is, punctuality was understood as a skill for future life and a way to be respectful to others; however, they also found that students must bring books, bags and other items with them, in addition to being on time for their lessons:

Yes, that they are in place, at the lessons. And on breaks and lunches too, of course. So, they are in place on school days, that’s what I think. (Mother 1)
Yes, that they are on time and are here (in school) when they should be. (Mother 2)
Yes and have what they need to bring to school, like books, clothes for physical education, bags, or whatever it is. (Mother 1)

The parents’ statements on students arriving on time, collected at the beginning of the study, inspired us to further explore how tardiness was viewed by students, parents, and school staff. The analysis relates to how tardiness is viewed in the material. The thematic content analysis showed that perspectives on arriving on time at school are framed by the main theme “It depends on…” This main theme is supported by the following underlying subthemes: (1) Signals, (2) Reactions, and (3) Responses. Here, the main theme will be presented first, followed by the subthemes.

It depends on…

Throughout the material, ”It depends on…” permeates the analysis. Students’ actions were viewed as depending on who the teacher was and how he/she behaved when they arrived late. Moreover, students’ actions were influenced by many factors: the importance of the school subject, the motivation towards school in general, support from home and time of the day. Similarly, the teachers’ understanding and handling of late arrival was related to a number of various circumstances: the teacher him/herself, the student, the circumstances of the late arrival, and lateness frequency. When it came to the parents’ views on the issue, the answer was it depends on…; thus, they told their stories about families and teachers. However, the staff on the student health team (SHT) at school B, did not explicitly mention tardiness but discussed school attendance and truancy in general terms and mentioned the importance of collaborating with parents. That is, from their perspective, it depends on the parents if students arrive at school on time or not. Parents were seen as either supportive or insufficient in their role.

In relation to the main theme, and shedding light on the complexity of tardiness, the developed subthemes in the analyzed material is as follows: tardiness depends on what signals are perceived regarding being on time; how tardiness is met by reactions of various kinds; and how students (should) respond to expectations and actions related to tardiness. Notably, these subthemes should be seen as a product of the analysis aiming to describe the material in the best way possible to answer the aim of the study. The subthemes should, therefore, not be understood as mutually exclusive but, rather, as mirroring the complexity of the issue.

3.1. Signals

The first subtheme, signals, includes accounts of unclear signals about the importance of being on time. The signals relate to expectations and norms and include issues of structure, predictability, and belongingness.

The mothers saw no consensus among the school staff regarding how tardiness is viewed and handled in school. They explained the various ways in which teachers dealt with students as disparities in teachers’ tolerance and as normalizing problematic behavior. The mothers requested higher expectations from the school regarding students being on time. They expressed that it is important from a security aspect that the school notice students arriving late. As a parent, you want to know that your child is at school and nowhere else. Furthermore, they believed that the students themselves would like to feel they were expected to be on time and that this emphasis is about respect and routines.

A time is usually to be held to for a reason. So if you do not show up or do not bother being on time, then you do not show respect for it. Everything I think is about consideration, respect, and cooperation. We are numerous at the school; it should work for everyone. And then slipping in when you feel like it or not showing up at all, this affects oneself first and foremost but affects others as well. You get into it, there just has to be a routine...In our family, we are useless at being on time, but…you have to try. And then there are surely families who, ‘but my goodness, come on time, it is well a worldly thing, there are worse problems in life’. But somehow, the school must uphold routines. If you don’t have a routine in school...and do not have one at home, where do you have it, if you are a youth? You have these two platforms and then perhaps a hobby. And then there must be security in this. (Mother 1)

The mother’s story illustrates the importance of respect for others through punctuality but also of the school itself as being responsible for maintaining structure, which can be understood as helping families struggling with punctuality.

The teachers in the two focus groups, at school A and B, had different views on late arrival. Some of the differences were between the two schools or related to what grades they taught. Some teachers expressed that they expected students to be on time, while others did not seem to care if students were a few minutes late. It seemed to depend more on the situation than on the student. The teachers were said to be more understanding if their class followed, e.g., physical education, as well as if the student was usually on time. If a group of students arrives late, one teacher said, she directs her attention instead to those who arrived on time and praises them. Furthermore, in the material, arriving late seemed not to be viewed as being equivalent to being absent from an entire class.

The teachers said that being on time did not seem to be important for some students. This idea was extended to families; that is, teachers in the lower grades (school A) said that not all parents found it important to help their children be on time. These teachers also expressed more responsibility and caretaking that fosters a sense of belongingness. One of the teachers said,

So that you...And that you get in contact directly, so... (to the Guardian), if a student does not come to school, for example, and you have not received an illness report or any other absences, then you must call immediately, of course.

The school staff in this school also discussed the importance of being clear with the students about what is expected of them and what happens when they do not live up to those expectations.

They begin arriving a little bit late from breaks, linger, don’t take things seriously, or the student left home a little bit late. And of course, it affects others too, those who are always there on time [laughter]. So, of course, that is part of the reason why we have tried to work on it.

The students’ stories (school B) also include descriptions of blurry signals regarding expectations about arriving on time. Depending on the reactions from the school, the students maintain there are no clear norms regarding punctuality or being on time for lessons.

3.2. Reactions

The second subtheme is about how tardiness is handled by teachers. In the focus group interviews with students, the most common description of what happens when they are late was that no one reacts. In one of the focus groups, the girls were asked what would happen if they arrived late. The reply was that the teachers most often do not respond at all to late arrivals; however, it depends. One of the girls said, “It depends. Sometimes they do not react at all”. Another girl continued, “Often” and a third girl said, “I would say that they do not react at all.” Similarly, the boys said “It depends”, “It is different (if and how they react)”.

That is, the students pointed out that sometimes being late was met with no reaction but, if handled, the reactions vary from teacher to teacher. Some simply noticed it and said “Welcome”, while others punished latecomers by screaming and shouting at them. Therefore, teachers’ reactions to late arrivals were seen as being unpredictable in some ways. The material analyzed showed that these variations are understood by the students as relating to a specific teacher (or other personnel) or, on the other hand, to a specific student. That is, all students are not treated equally. These variations recurred independently of interviewees (boys, girls, parents; notably, the SHT did not speak about late arrivals at all).

Students expressed that late arrival was sometimes recorded in the electronic system but sometimes not. If the students did not notice such a record, they interpreted it as “no reaction” from the teacher. Registration in the electronic system decided whether the student was judged as being late or not; this was in some ways predictable for the students, e.g., which teacher would register tardiness, but even among those noting it, the handling of the situation varied. Some teachers at school B noted every single tardiness minute while others recorded only if someone was really late, although what was considered “really late” differed among teachers. The teachers at both schools and the SHT spoke about a 20-percent limit to school absence measured from the beginning of the term. When a student exceeded that limit, the SHT initiated a meeting with the parents.

Some teachers (B) said they used a strategy to ignore students when they were late to class: they just went on with their lesson without paying attention to the latecomer. Further, some teachers simply asked the latecomer, “why so”. The analysis shows that what the students define as ‘no response’ to a late arrival sometimes means a response but a non-social one. Students relate responses to social reactions in the relationship between teacher and student. One of the boys did not want to be asked for an explanation as to why he was late: “It is good if they ask why you are late, so you can explain… There may be reasons”. A girl wanted more caring questions from the teachers: “They don’t ask us ‘Yes, why are you late?’ or ask for the reason why we’re late. They just note the absence. They are so used to it”. The girls had different opinions about the teacher’s caring questions; although they do not want to be absent for a long time without the teacher noticing, they wanted to be missed. In addition, in the mixed group, questions about being late were considered preferable.

Although a lack of reaction to tardiness was found in the material, the opposite was also interpreted from the stories told, with the analysis showing that powerful reactions from teachers are also important. Teachers who felt provoked or interrupted sometimes reacted aggressively. Their various stories about situations involving late arrival showed how teachers feel about youths. Some teachers (school B) described students “flinging” and “kicking on the door”, or simply waiting until the lesson began and then coming in. Other teachers, at the same school, based the stories of their ambition to create a welcoming classroom with opened doors and on thoughts about why students arrive late or drop out of class or even from school.

In regard to reactions to tardiness, doors played a central role in the material from school B. The students saw a closed door as a clear signal that the lesson had begun; on the other hand, the door could be open even if the lesson was in progress and the students could just step inside. This was experienced by the students as being unclear and showed that lessons could begin in various ways depending on specific teachers and how they set up their own lessons. The girls understood that teachers do not want to be interrupted when they begin a lesson:

Respondent girl: She held a review… then it is another thing. If she is holding a review.

Interviewer: If she has a review, then she reacts?

R girl: Yes, then she doesn’t want people knocking on the door: it disturbs everyone else and also her review.

Other teachers not only close their door but they lock it, which extends the length of the absence that will be reported:

Some teachers, they do this... If you are a little late, you cannot get in; then, you get marked even more absent than you really were… So, you really were earlier than the report shows because the teacher didn’t let you in. And then you want to be on time. You do not want to get an unnecessarily long absence. The teachers lock the door, not just close it.

Furthermore, in one focus group with teachers (school B), locking doors was pointed out as being a controversial activity related to security aspects. “The rules about locking doors have been changed”, one teacher said, after a crime was committed in a Swedish school two years earlier when a young man killed a student and a teacher and seriously hurt a group of young students. The other teachers in the group took no notice of this comment and continued describing their strategies in handling late arrivals and how they felt provoked by students knocking or kicking on the door to get in.

Unpredictably, students mentioned the strong reactions from teachers. In some cases, they said that the teachers reacted more strongly to someone arriving late and knocking on the door. It seemed to depend on what was going on in the classroom at the time. The students said that teachers seldom reacted if the students in the class were working individually while someone arrived late. On the other hand, they pointed out that some teachers not only respond negatively to being interrupted but also to other events in the classroom. There were accounts of teachers frightening students by their behavior, one student reporting, “One may be scared of some teachers, so then one doesn’t want to be late. They may be…very angry”.

The students who encountered screaming and shouting teachers said that they could avoid such treatment by being on time, but their narrations also contained accounts of various behaviors among teachers, behaviors that are not always predictable. However, in one of the groups, when ‘shouting’ teachers were mentioned, this was not considered a constructive way to handle latecomers, even though students found they were seldom late to classes conducted by those teachers:

R boy: It is good that they record an absence but it feels excessive that they stand there and scream.

R boy: Yes, exactly. It is our choice anyway if we arrive late or not. Then, he can record us as absent, nothing else. It affects us. Not like this: stand and mess just because you are late.

I: What do you others say about this?

R: Same here. Just go in and sit down, and then they record you absent, and so…yes, it will be like that. Then, there is nothing more. You shouldn’t have to talk about why you are late and so on; it is just unnecessary.

I: At the same time, you said that the teachers who get angry, those are the lessons you go to to avoid it (the teacher’s negative behavior).

R boy: Yes, then it works. Thus, the students will be on time.

R boy: Yes, I was thinking the same thing.

I: And then, the teacher has achieved his/her goal?

R boy: Yes (from many).

From the above quotations, it is clear that the students believe that late arrival is simply their own choice and that they do not see themselves in relation to others. However, some of the students could see the contradiction in wanting the teachers not to react but at the same time coming to class to avoid an aggressive teacher.

3.3. Responses

The last subtheme focuses on responses; that is, issues that strengthen the willingness to be on time and that contribute to tardiness and absenteeism. In the interviews with the students, various perspectives on the relevance of being on time were emphasized. Some expressed the view that classes important for high school were prioritized, others prioritized classes with teachers they found kind and interested, and still, others mentioned the importance of being with friends. Students also found that the short time was a motivation for going to school and being on time.

For the most part, students wanted to avoid such aspects that create discomfort. They described angry and shouting teachers and angry parents, but there were also aspects that could be a motivation in the long or short term. One boy, who had been truant and tardy a lot, said: “I had to start thinking about getting into high school. So, school started to feel more important”. He was motivated by thoughts of his future life.

Some students discussed being late as their own choice, according to how seriously they view school and education. They were more motivated to attend some of the lessons. That is, they were found prioritizing various subjects; some were noted as being more important, and others were considered more boring. Thus, students said they were seldom late to those prioritized classes and more often arrived late to other classes.

There were also differences in maturity among what was considered motivating aspects. One boy was motivated by more urgent needs satisfaction: to avoid conflicts with his mother, he had coffee at school in the morning; nothing else motivated him:

R boy: Yeah, I don’t know. Not so damn much. I have to come here; otherwise my mom will not be so damn happy if I’m home every day.

I: It is your mom….

R boy: Yes, she forces me to go to school.

R boy: Yes.

I: So, it’s just about force, never any strong desire or anything (to go to school)?

R boy: No, damn it. You get coffee here.

I: You get coffee? You don’t get that at home?

R boy: Yes, damn it, but I have to make it myself; I can’t stand it.

In order to understand what motivated students to make them be on time for school, or even go to school, we asked them to describe their “dream school”. They told stories about starting later in the morning, better teachers, better technical equipment, better food, and more variety and flexibility.

The relevance of motivation was found in the parents’ stories as well. However, parents’ perspectives on motivation were related to the future of their own child. That is, school is important in obtaining a higher education and/or a job. In the material based on the focus group interviews with school staff in both schools, this perspective was not made explicit. When the staff (schools A and B) talked about motivation, their stories were mostly related to how they did not find that students and/or parents prioritize school. The staff questioned the students and/or parents when it came to prioritizing being in school and/or on time for class.

When the school staff (A) were asked to describe an “attending” student, they mentioned individual aspects such as being curious, motivated, healthy, idea-rich and willing to learn. In addition, aspects related to their social environment were mentioned: being pushed by their parents, living in a family engaged with the school, other activities outside school and having friends. The teachers in the secondary school (B), on the other hand, noted the importance of being welcoming and showing that they, as teachers, were happy to see the students, and of developing good relations between teachers and students. In terms of pedagogy, they tried to make education “old school”, that is, predictable and without too much involvement of the students, in order to make it easier for them. From their perspective, this was a way to motivate their students.

4. Discussion

The results showed that tardiness, viewed by students, parents, teachers and other groups working in the school, including the student health team, is a complex issue. However, based on various signals relating to how important attendance was understood to be, how eventually tardiness was reacted to, and the students’ responses, the pattern we found illustrates the unpredictability encountered by the students, whereas tardiness itself was not viewed in similar ways by the focus groups, nor was it handled equally. These results are discussed below, first in relation to the theme developed from the analysis and then based on our main theme and how it could be understood from a social-ecological perspective.

4.1. Signals

Parents and students interpreted the signals from school as indicating that punctuality was not that important. This can be understood as meaning that teachers have no expectations of you (as a student) to be at school on time. Previous studies show that school attendance is a sign that the school is well structured and predictable for the students [ 26 ]. Buhler, Karlsson, and Österholm [ 54 ] found it important to promote school attendance by starting and ending the school day in the same way, every day. Teachers ignoring latecomers also indirectly send out signals that you as a person are not important. This result is in line with previous findings [ 55 ]. Expectations of how people act in different situations produce norms related to how we behave in a specific environment and indicate what the culture is. Signals can be used to create a sense of belonging or create a feeling that you do not belong to this place or culture. Belongingness has been found as essential in the health-promoting school model described by Rowe and Stewart [ 56 ].

To feel included in and connected to school is important for health and school achievement [ 57 ]. Wenzel [ 58 ] found that perceived support from teachers measured as, for example, “My teachers really care about me” and “My teachers like to help me learn”, was a positive predictor for student motivation, school interest, and class interest one year later.

4.2. Reactions

Latecomers encountered different reactions. Schools have no shared and clear policy or rules to handle late arrival: some teachers locked the door, others registered the tardiness in the electronic system, some shouted and still others took no notice of the latecomers. The predictability became even more unclear from the students’ viewpoints, because sometimes the same teacher reacted differently to the same situation involving different students. This result shows that not too much seems to have happened since D’Amico [ 32 ] carried out his research and found no consensus among teachers. On the other hand, treating students unequally might be how teachers interpret compensatory assignments [ 39 ]. Swedish compensatory assignments offer support related to the student’s needs for equal access to education. With students coming from a vulnerable family and/or environment or with at-risk students, teachers probably want to be welcoming and caring in order to mitigate their vulnerability. The results indicate that teachers from school A saw the students’ wellbeing and school achievement as a part of their family and the entire living situation.

Teachers who sometimes emphasized the differences among students created an unjust school environment. This was also found in a Swedish [ 59 ] qualitative study, where the students reported feeling like “black sheep” or failures, while other students were described as being teachers’ pets or high achievers. The “black sheep” described how teachers’ behavior, for example, shouting and screaming at them, had affected their self-esteem and interest in schoolwork. In addition, Banfield, et al. [ 60 ] described “offensive teachers” who humiliated students, picked favorites, and were rude or sarcastic, which in turn affected the students’ wellbeing. Handling tardiness by being offensive to students is in line with D’Amico’s [ 32 ] description of reducing negative behavior. On the other hand, Freeman and colleagues [ 33 ] found evidence that skills training and family support, in addition to incentive-training, to increase the level of student punctuality strengthened positive behavior.

The students in our study asked for more caring questions from the teachers and for greater openness to being exposed to unforeseen events. This could be seen as young people’s expectation of a relational perspective on teaching [ 61 ]; in addition, a relationship with or interaction between teachers and parents was also mentioned by mothers, an idea related to the fact that the primary means of communication was expected to be via the electronic system.

Mothers, students, and teachers alike mentioned security aspects but related to different situations. Students and mothers wanted someone to start looking for latecomers because something may have happened to them on their way to school. Teachers in the lower classes also thought along these lines. Secondary school teachers, on the other hand, mentioned security in relation to school attacks and the need to keep the students in a safe place, away from external threats. School shootings or school attacks have been a reality for many years in Western countries [ 62 ]. The risk that something would happen to a student on her or his way to school is more likely than a major attack in the school itself. The responsibility of parents and of the school towards the students is an ongoing topic of discussion in Sweden, but in some ways, the rule is clear: parents are responsible for their children arriving at school on time. The school is responsible when the child is at school, but the responsibility is twofold between school and parents [ 63 ]. This could explain the differences in the focus of the teachers, parents, and students.

4.3. Responses

Predictability, a culture that creates a sense of belonging by giving caring and supportive signals in school, affects whether the students arrive on time or not. Findings [ 64 ] reveal that a negative sense of school belonging has a negative impact on intrinsic motivation and perceived learning.

The students (mostly the boys) saw themselves as solely responsible for arriving on time, and this was only related to their own decision. On the other hand, their responses showed that their decisions were influenced by teachers’ behavior, parents’ expectations, future plans for higher education and, in some cases, simply by the short time period at their disposal. Another finding was the school staff’s discussion about motivation. Motivation was described from an individual perspective as a characteristic of the student or coming from a supportive family. None of the teachers mentioned motivation as the responsibility of the school organization or as part of pedagogy, even though a number of previous studies have noted that motivation is part of classroom pedagogy [ 65 ]. The teacher-learner relationship is also an important factor in creating engagement and promoting educational outcomes [ 66 ].

We interpret this finding to mean that this school had not created a sense of belonging for the students. Nor had they, from the students’ viewpoint, created a desire for learning. Both students and parents asked for better interaction and communication with the teachers and the school. The increased digitalization of school involves the risk of losing communication and interaction with parents if all primary communication is effected through texting and through registration in an electronic program. Parental engagement in school has been shown to be important for school achievement [ 67 ] and for a health-promoting school [ 16 , 17 , 18 ].

The results show that teachers do not differentiate between school refusal behavior and truancy or school withdrawal, and neither does the school health team. They focus more on absenteeism percentages and inputting these into the electronic system to begin analyzing the problem if the absenteeism level exceeds 20 percent. The reason for tardiness must form part of the analysis that determines effort. Universal and individual efforts do not contradict each other: both are needed. In this article, we focus on how the school can be a supportive environment for students and their families in regard to students arriving on time. To promote school attendance, specifically punctuality, one must examine the student and his or her individual behavior within a broader social and cultural context in which the student, the family, and the school interact. The main theme, “It depends on…”, will now be discussed from a social-ecological perspective.

4.4. It Depends on…

According to social-ecological theory [ 43 ], different environments influence our behavior and health. People’s thoughts, behavior and perspectives are transmitted among these environments. We move between different environments: our family, neighborhood, school, work and so on. From a broader perspective, the child’s (and school staffs’) home and neighborhood is also part of the system whose components interact with each other [ 43 , 68 ]. Earlier studies have shown that young people see the interaction between the school environment and their home environment as important for their health [ 59 ]. This is in line with the idea behind health-promoting schools [ 69 ] and the entire school approach [ 70 ].

The main theme “It depends on…”was developed to describe the various aspects influencing how teachers give signals and react in relation to tardiness and how this reaction elicits responses among students. The interpretation of “It depends on…” provides a picture of an unpredictable situation for both students and parents. As mentioned above, predictability and structure during the school day have been shown to be important factors for school attendance, especially for children with school-refusal behavior [ 71 ]. In addition, other studies illustrate the importance for all children of consequent, clear and equal rules and norms [ 72 ]. The mothers interviewed in the present study stressed the importance of the school as being a place for structure and safety and encouraging an “arriving on time” culture, based on the fact that some children live in a vulnerable situation in families with many social problems. This finding is in line with the directive from the Swedish government about compensatory assignments [ 39 , 40 ].

The social-ecological theory explains how specific cultures develop in different environments. The students move between school, their homes, and places for spare-time activities. These places are culture carriers, but the students affect and are affected by these different contexts when they move and interact within them. The common setting for the students is school, while the other settings differ more or less, given that homes, neighborhoods and to some extent, settings for sports and other activities, differ according to the families’ socioeconomic position [ 73 ]. Schools in Sweden are obliged to provide equal access to education and shelter, to be compensatory and to strive to equalize inequalities, although sometimes the opposite is the case, even in Sweden [ 74 ]. In line with this, the teachers of younger students see their work in encouraging punctuality as a part of their educational assignment, as an interaction between how they organize their schoolwork and how the students respond, and how this, in turn, affects the classroom environment. This example illustrates the ecological system and the constant movement within that system.

Individualized education, on the other hand, where teachers say, “Take your books and continue where you are”, creates a view of the individual student as an isolated island, without any connection to the environment. This reductionism assumes that a system can be broken down into single components, which is the opposite of a system in which parts interact and must be understood in relation to the whole [ 75 ]. However, why should students arrive on time if they do not assume they relate to others or to the environment?

Lastly, the results from our study indicate that tardiness is understood by the participants as a problem related to both the school and the family, also observed in research on adolescent adjustment; illuminating not only the students’ ability to adapt with school environment [ 5 , 6 ] but also the impact of parenting on these abilities. That is, positively engaged parents can contribute to adjustment [ 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 ]. That means, vulnerable families need more support from schools and maybe also social welfare services, on how to become more involved in their children’s education [ 76 ].

Altogether, the social-ecological theory [ 43 ], as well as the school adjustment perspective [ 5 , 6 , 8 ], illuminates the importance of family involvement. To promote school attendance among students, a social perspective including the whole social context of the adolescent is necessary.

4.5. Methodological Discussion

A focus group interview design was chosen for the present study. Students, school staff, and parents were invited to participate in order to provide different perspectives on the topic of our study. School staff were deliberately interviewed in groups based on their profession (i.e., the school health team were interviewed separately from the teachers) since we assumed that they would have different views on tardiness depending on their professional role and experience with students. It turned out that they did speak about tardiness in different ways.

Two parents agreed to be interviewed. Preferably, one to two focus groups (about 5 to 10 parents) should have been performed to give equal weight to the stories of students, school staff, and parents. This approach would have strengthened the results of the parents’ perspectives on tardiness in the present study. The two participating parents provided valuable insights into their views on tardiness. In fact, it was the interview with the parents that introduced tardiness as a topic of interest and led us to study it in more depth.

Recruiting students ensures that adolescents from various backgrounds were included since school is mandatory. However, students absent from school when recruitment was carried out may not have received the information and were thereby excluded from the focus groups. Students absent at the time of recruitment are probably more likely to be absent from school in general and, if interviewed, would perhaps provide important insights into the reasons behind tardiness. Conducting individual interviews instead of focus groups would perhaps have decreased the risk of peer pressure among the students when interviewed and made it more likely that they spoke their minds. On the other hand, focus groups with peers could be a more comfortable venue for students than being alone with the researchers. In our opinion, interviewing the students in same-sex or mixed groups based on their own choice made it more likely that the participants were comfortable and could express their opinions.

In addition, focus group interviews are preferable when seeking insights into meaningful themes embedded in discussions of the topic chosen. The included schools, school staff, parents and students were not representative, although we included both a primary and a secondary school, and the staff members interviewed represented all key professions.

Our study found that a thematic analysis provided the best opportunity to answer our research question. Criticism of a thematic analysis includes individual accounts and language use being lost, and the flexibility of the method making it difficult to know what aspects to focus on. We aimed to present patterns of shared meanings. It turned out to be difficult to create themes that were mutually exclusive, as recommended by, e.g., Braun and Clarke [ 53 ]. Nonetheless, we believe the thematic analysis is the best analytical categorization for the material in our study. The present study used social-ecological theory and health-promoting perspectives as a framework to strengthen our interpretations. The involvement of three researchers in the analysis process and a continuous discussion during all steps of the analysis strengthened the process and the credibility of our results. All authors agreed on the final themes. We have also described our methodology and analysis in detail to allow readers to form an independent assessment of credibility. To judge our study’s resonance, the preliminary results were presented to and discussed by some teachers and the principal from another school for feedback. The results made sense to them.

5. Conclusions

The picture that emerges from our analysis shows both differences and similarities among the groups participating in the study. Parents and students shared the same idea about how schools handled lateness, but their views on responsibility differed. Some of the students saw only their own responsibility as a factor affecting punctuality. The inability to see their role as part of a greater whole was more prevalent in secondary school teachers than in teachers in the lower grades. Late arrival is a sign of adolescents’ maladjustment from a holistic viewpoint, in a school as an organization created to interact with students, families, and school staff.

The results of this study imply the importance of organizing the school day more predictably and with a better structure for the students. Such predictability can be expressed by starting the school day at the same time and in the same manner every single day. Further, the staff needs to agree on a common policy on handling tardiness. The result also indicates that schools must further develop their effectiveness in relation to both students and parents. That is, they must strengthen their work in promoting students’ sense of belonging and in relation to students’ interests and motivation to come to school. In dealing with tardiness especially, it is important to interpret this behavior as a signal understood in a greater context.

In further research, we suggest developing a model of how to handle student tardiness based on predictable standpoints. This model should be developed and tested in collaboration with researchers, teachers, students, and parents.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, E.W. and M.W.; methodology, Å.S., E.W. and M.W.; validation, M.W.; investigation, Å.S., E.W. and M.W.; resources, L.T.; writing—original draft preparation, Å.S., E.W., L.T. and M.W.; writing—review and editing, E.W. and M.W.; supervision, M.W.; project administration, L.T. and M.W.; funding acquisition, L.T. and M.W. All authors have read and agree to the published version of the manuscript.

This research was funded by The Swedish National Agency for Education in the national project “Health promoting school improvement” grant number, Dnr. 2016-1616.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The founding sponsors had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, and in the decision to publish the results. The projetleader from the municipality had no role in the data collection, analysis or interpretation of the data and become a co-author after the termination of her employment.

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Combatting Chronic Absenteeism with Family Engagement 

  • Posted March 28, 2024
  • By Jill Anderson
  • Counseling and Mental Health
  • Disruption and Crises
  • Families and Community

Illustration of parents bringing children to school

Family engagement plays a pivotal role in combating chronic absenteeism, says Eyal Bergman , Ed.L.D.’21, senior vice president at Learning Heroes.

The number of students who are chronically absent — missing 10% or more of the school year — has skyrocketed since the pandemic. Bergman studied this issue and was surprised to discover how schools with robust family engagement had significantly lower rates of chronic absenteeism. “It shows that the strength of a school's family engagement is actually more predictive of a school's chronic absenteeism than their rates of poverty,” he says.

But fostering strong home-school partnerships has been a challenge for many school districts. “What we find is that schools often, despite really good intentions, have not really been designed to promote really strong partnerships with families,” he says. “This is why families are often treated as spectators to the work of schools. This is why their cultural wisdom and their expertise about their children aren't necessarily woven into the fabric of schooling. It's why we see that schools often apply assimilationist practices.”

Bergman emphasizes the need for trust-building between educators and families, personalized approaches to student learning, and systemic infrastructural support to enhance family engagement. In future work, Bergman will dig deeper into the data and try to gather more information about what certain school districts with strong family engagement did to keep chronic absenteeism down and a possible tool down the line to help schools with family engagement.

In this episode, he explains the soaring numbers of chronic absenteeism while underscoring the transformative potential of prioritizing family engagement in ensuring student well-being and academic success.

JILL ANDERSON: I'm Jill Anderson. This is the Harvard EdCast.

Eyal Bergman believes strong family engagement may counteract schools' growing problem with chronic absenteeism. Nearly 16 million students missed more than 10% of the 2022 school year — that's double pre-pandemic levels.

Bergman leads research on the impact of family engagement in schools. When he set out to study family engagement during the pandemic, he was surprised to see just how much better schools with pre-existing strong family engagement fared on attendance. Many schools struggle to develop strong family engagement, despite its well-known benefits and even funding available to help. I wanted to hear more about the challenges associated with chronic absenteeism and the role of family engagement. First, I asked how the pandemic impacted chronic absenteeism.

Eyal Bergman

EYAL BERGMAN: If you compare chronic absenteeism numbers from pre-pandemic, from 2019, '18-'19, to '21-'22, which is the first full year once kids were fully back in school, it doubled. And we have about 15 million children that were chronically absent in the '21-'22 school year. And they're all over the country. So you have a little over 5 million kids in cities, about 5 million kids in suburbs. You've got about 4 million kids that live in rural or small towns. It's really everywhere. But it's especially important to note that it's especially pronounced in high-poverty communities.

So when you look at high poverty communities pre-pandemic, about 25% of schools were in what's called extreme chronic absenteeism. That's where 30% or more of students are chronically absent.


EYAL BERGMAN: So you've got 25% of schools in high-poverty communities that were chronically absent pre-pandemic, and that number shot up to 69%.


EYAL BERGMAN: So nearly 7 in 10 schools in high-poverty communities are beset by extreme levels of chronic absence. It is a tremendous problem. Now, some of those numbers have started to come down, but only slightly. So '21-'22, we're currently two years removed from some of that data. And some states have released their data from this past school year, from the '22-'23 school year, but most of the states that have released data have had their numbers come down less than five percentage points. Some states have actually gone up. So we're really in, still, a very elevated level of chronic absence across the country.

JILL ANDERSON: Do we know a lot about why this is happening post-pandemic, or is it still kind of we need to figure it out?

EYAL BERGMAN: Well, there's a lot of different factors explaining why kids come or don't come to school. I think there's been changing norms.

EYAL BERGMAN: It's important to remember that chronic absence takes into account excused and unexcused absences. So norms around-- it used to be that a kid had sniffles, and they would still come to school. A lot of families have decided just to not send their kids to school at that point.

But I think also, norms have changed in schools around kids wanting to stay home, families choosing to send their kids home. And I think the way it relates to our study, and the work that we look at, and the relationship between home and school, is that it shows that in communities that have strong relationships with families, they can have real talk about how important it is to come to school regularly, what interventions can be placed that are mutually supported at home and at school, such that kids feel more welcomed in school, such that kids feel like school is an everyday experience and families feel that way too. I think it's helpful to see attendance as like a vital sign of a school's health. And the more that students and teachers and parents and all the community members are wrapping themselves around kids to really stress the importance and help them feel welcomed and safe and supported in schools, the more likely kids are to show up to school every day.

JILL ANDERSON: You set out to study this issue. Tell me a little bit about what you discovered-- why some schools were faring better than others?

EYAL BERGMAN: Let me give you a little bit of an explanation about where the data comes from, to give some context, and a little bit about where the study came from. Because Dr. Karen Mapp is a mentor of mine and was my advisor when the pandemic hit. And we were talking a lot about, surely, the pandemic would be a very useful time to study the impact of family engagement.

Because the hypothesis for this study was born in those first few months. We were hearing all sorts of anecdotal evidence in the spring of 2020, when schools were shuttered, that the schools that had strong relationships with families were going to be a little bit better equipped to withstand the disruptions in schooling. So that was the hypothesis that was set out. And Dr. Mapp was able to join on a Learning Heroes webinar. And in that webinar, where we are talking about this, it piqued the interest of some funders that were on the webinar. And so we were able to start to get some initial funding to be able to set out and conduct this study.

And as a part of the initial landscape assessment of preparing to conduct that study, we interviewed about 20 family engagement scholars, experts in the field. And one of the things that we learned from that landscape assessment is that there is really one really predominant data source for a large quantitative sample. And that is the Five Essentials, which is administered statewide in Illinois. It was designed by the University of Chicago.

If folks are familiar with Tony Bryk and Barbara Schneider's landmark study, "Trust In Schools," this found that the presence of trust in schools was highly predictive of whether schools would improve over time. And so this data has been-- is a very high teacher response rate, so it's very reliable and valid. And it measures the five essentials of school improvement, like classroom culture, principal efficacy, teacher efficacy-- a number of key essentials. And one of those is family-community ties.

And so there are over 3,000 schools in Illinois that respond to this survey every year. That doesn't really exist in many other places. And so it's a really important and rich data set. And so it dates back. 

So that is the data that we used. And there is a lot of publicly-available data on achievement levels, and poverty rates, and a bunch of community and school characteristics that allow us to do statistical modeling. And so we're able to control for a lot of variables.

The way I like to think about statistics is that there's a lot of factors that contribute to chronic absenteeism. And what the stats allow us to do is start to tease apart, like, how big are the different pieces of the pie, right? For all intents and purposes, if you take two schools, and you say they had the same achievement levels, the same chronic absenteeism levels in 2018-2019, they have the same poverty rates, they're the same type of schools-- so you're not comparing high school to elementary school-- and so for all intents and purposes, these schools are essentially the same except for that one school scored in the 10th percentile of the Five Essentials family engagement metric, and the other school scored in the 90th percentile. So you're comparing two schools where one school performed very low, and one school performed very high. What this allows us to say is that the family engagement score accounts for a 39% difference in their chronic absenteeism rates. So that's tremendous. That 39% accounts for 6.2 percentage points on their chronic absenteeism score.

So those are real numbers. In a school of 500 kids, 6% of kids is 31 kids that are not chronically absent. In a school of 1,000 kids, that's 62 kids. That's multiple classrooms. That could be a whole grade level. So these are real numbers, and that's the most important finding from the study.

JILL ANDERSON: Were you surprised, though, to see this huge—


JILL ANDERSON: --number, this huge difference?

EYAL BERGMAN: We had to run the numbers multiple times to make sure that we were seeing the right thing. And we sent it out to external reviewers to make sure that we weren't missing something critical. We're like, this is pretty significant. There's also other findings where it shows that the strength of a school's family engagement is actually more predictive of a school's chronic absenteeism than their rates of poverty. JILL ANDERSON: Wow.

EYAL BERGMAN: We found that the strength of a school's family engagement was twice as predictive post-pandemic as it was pre-pandemic. So that 6.2 number is cut in half in pre-pandemic. In other words, we knew family engagement mattered before, but it really mattered in the pandemic. And considering that our levels are still pretty close, they're much closer to what they were in '21-'22 now than what they were pre-pandemic. So the importance of family engagement, to me, seems like it's here to stay if you're talking about addressing chronic absenteeism.

JILL ANDERSON: So it says that there was 6% less chronic absenteeism post-pandemic in schools with strong family engagement versus weak family engagement. I'm just going to ask you again if you can put that number into some kind of context, because I worry that people might hear that and think, 6% is really such a small number.


JILL ANDERSON: It doesn't seem that dramatic, but it is.

EYAL BERGMAN: If you work in a school-- I imagine a lot of your listeners work in schools-- show me a school that doesn't want to lower its chronic absenteeism by 6 percentage points right now. And if you want to talk about real kids, like I said, in a school of 500 kids-- that's a normal-sized elementary school. That's an average-sized school in Illinois-- that's 31 children that are not chronically absent. In a school of 1,000, that's 62.

In terms of attendance, it's 800 fewer student absences in a year in a school of 500. And I'll put it in financial terms, too. In my state-- I live in California-- a lot of states like ours get their school funding based on something called average daily attendance. In other words, the days that students come to school is how schools actually get their funding.

So when I used to work in a school district here in California, our Attendance Office was located in Fiscal Services, just to give you a sense of where we situate the relative importance of attendance. So in a school of 500, that 6 percentage point equates to $45,000. A school of 1,000-- there's lots of schools with 1,000 kids-- that's $90,000 of your operating budget.

JILL ANDERSON: So it's not a case of just the value, of course, of getting kids into the school so that they can learn. It has significant funding repercussions.

EYAL BERGMAN: It has significant funding repercussions. And I also just think that anybody who's been a teacher understands that you can't do all the work that you want to do if your kids aren't in school. There's this saying that I don't necessarily love. It's like, they can't learn if they're not here.

I mean, I think kids learn wherever they are. Like, my kids learn at home. Our kids learn in the community. But the skills we want to impart on kids, the social development and the academic development we want to impart on kids, school offers an important sense of consistency for kids. And if they're not coming to school, then they can't get the benefits of everything we're trying to do in school.

JILL ANDERSON: Would you say that the majority of schools in the US have weak family engagement? EYAL BERGMAN: I'll put it this way. So Dr. Karen Mapp and I wrote a piece that was published in June of 2021. We really started thinking about it and writing it in the summer of 2020 amidst the renewed reckoning of racial injustice in America in the wake of George Floyd's murder and schools grappling with how to respond, how to think about themselves as service providers in communities-- particularly in communities of color-- but also the ravages of the pandemic upon low income and communities of color.

These dual pandemics just reveal a lot about the historical relationships between home and school in America. And what we find is that schools often, despite really good intentions, have not really been designed to promote really strong partnerships with families. This is why families are often treated as spectators to the work of schools. This is why their cultural wisdom and their expertise about their children aren't necessarily woven into the fabric of schooling. It's why we see that schools often apply assimilationist practices.

What do I mean by that? When you look at how most schools and systems allocate their funding for family engagement, it's usually things like parent liaisons. They hire parent liaisons who are from the community-- oftentimes in immigrant communities that speak the language and that are from that culture and that community-- and things like parent universities or training programs for parents. None of that is wrong. In many cases, that comes from requests from parents and from the communities themselves.

So the point there is that that's not wrong, but that it's incomplete. Because as a strategy, what it says is, in order to resolve this gulf between home and school, we need parents to come closer to the school.

EYAL BERGMAN: So we need to have staff explain things to parents so that they understand things and so that they are better equipped to support their kids. But there isn't very much in the way of strategy design or funding to help staff get to understand and know the communities better to build the staffing capacity for stronger and richer community engagement.

I mean, when I say that schools haven't really been designed for comprehensive engagement, I think you can look at most schools, like, teachers will tell you they don't really have the time to build relationships with families and to collaborate really richly with them. That is a product of design. What do we have time to do?

EYAL BERGMAN: It's A question of where our priorities are. When you look at most pre-service training programs in America, teachers do not receive training in their pre-service programs for building relationships with families and collaborating with them so that they can actually work in strong partnership, even though we know from research-- and it just makes intuitive sense, too-- if you're a parent, if you're a teacher, you know that if parents and teachers are actually talking to one another, if they're looking at data, if they're on the same page, then it feels like one of you is playing offense—

Like on a football team, the offensive players don't play defense, and the defensive players don't play offense. But they're both doing their part to help the team win. So you can imagine that the teachers doing their part in the classroom, the parents doing their part at home, if they're in strong partnership with each other, that actually really helps kids.

And this is what the research bears out. But the systems are not designed to promote that type of activity and behavior. That's why teachers don't have the time. That's why teachers aren't trained. That's why there's not much PD in the way of helping teachers improve in this work.

There are tools and tactics like apps that can be helpful, or text message opt-out, opt-in methods where parents get notified. There are important technical things that can be done, and that does help. That helps a little bit. But the fundamental questions of why parents and teachers don't have the time or the dispositions to be able to really build strong relationships, that's at the core of the nature of the challenge: What makes one school strong in family engagement versus another?

I can give examples from two pieces. One is the piece that Dr. Mapp and I wrote. It's called, "Embracing a New Normal, Toward a More Liberatory Approach to Family Engagement." We have a nice case study in there. And then, there's another piece that I wrote a few years ago called, "Unlocking the How, Designing Family Engagement Strategies that Lead to School Success." And that has about a dozen examples from across the country.

And in that piece, I sort of break down three basic pillars of what constitutes strong engagement. And all of this is rooted, of course, in the dual capacity-building framework for family school partnerships. That's Dr. Mapp's framework. And in that framework, which we borrow from the Three Pillars, the first pillar is the indisputable importance of trust-building.

EYAL BERGMAN: A lot of times, what I see is events, activities in schools where we invite parents to come in and do things, or we send out communications to parents. Those are the most common things. But if you're not building trust between teachers and parents, you're not going to see really strong engagement. 

And so schools that really excel, they do things even with the resources at their disposal. Like, make Back to School Night less about all the things that I want to do this year with your kids in my classroom, and more like, let me get to know you a little bit. There are schools where the teachers just walk around and they have parents introduce themselves to each other, to their parents. They open the floor. They just ask questions. 

You just build a relationship with another person. Schooling is fundamentally a human enterprise. So we get to know people for who they are and what they care about. You start by building relationships.

So some schools do home visits. To me, that's really powerful for teachers because it helps them conceptualize, like, what did I think about the kids and families that I've visited, and what did I actually observe in the home? And very often, it can start a conversation about some biases I thought-- I think I might have had about families.

Home visits are wonderful. Even if you don't do home visits, you can do like community visits. And one thing that I loved was just trust visits.

So the parents come to the school, but the point of the visit at the start of the year is just like, let's build a relationship. Let's get to know each other. At this one school that we featured in "Embracing a New Normal," they do welcoming meetings at the beginning of the year. 30 minutes, teachers meet with their students' parents for 30 minutes at the start of the year. That time is set aside by the schools.

In secondary schools, if I'm a math teacher in a high school, I can't meet with 150 parents at the start of the year. But oftentimes, there's advisories, or Zero Period. And so there are ways to chunk it out so that everybody does their part with just a few students. So that's one thing.

The second pillar is, this is all about student learning and well-being. I think a lot of times, what we see is that family engagement activities are more like feel-good. And that's not bad. In many cases, it can be really important for building a relationship.

But at the end of the day, we're all here for kids. And so family engagement is a means to an end. It's not an end in and of itself. The purpose should be, let's make sure we all have an accurate picture of how our children are performing in school.

So the organization that I work at, Learning Heroes, we do, practically every year, a national poll of parents and teachers and principals. The last data we have is from late in 2023, where we did a poll with Gallup. And again, we found that about 90% of parents in America think that their kids are at or above grade level in reading and in math.

Educators have one perspective. Families have a very different perspective.

EYAL BERGMAN: Families, for the most part, think that their kids are doing fine until they hear from the school that there was a problem.


EYAL BERGMAN: Well, also, more than 80% of parents in America report that their kids get A's and B's, or B's and higher, on their schools. So the primary method that families receive to let them know how their children are performing are report card grades. And report card grades have their benefit, but they're also deeply flawed. They're more of a reflection of effort and assignment completion than they are grade-level mastery-- or they can be-- and they're highly subjective.

So families have a distorted view of how their kids are doing in school. That has to change. And the best way to do that is to get on the same page, review data, make plans together, get together on a regular basis. 

So there are schools, plenty of schools, that have a fall conference where they review data, and they make a plan. And then, they meet again in the winter to review how that's going and adjust as necessary, and then get together in the spring to review progress and make a summer plan. So let's focus on student learning and well-being. The pillar is to anchor in student learning and well-being.

And then, the third pillar is to build an infrastructure, because you have to build a scaffold for this to actually function in schools and systems. Like, you can't just lop on a good idea on a system that isn't prepared to manage it or lead it. So there are some school districts, for instance, that have senior, cabinet-level leaders for family engagement.

In many places, the leader for family engagement at the district is nowhere near the senior-level leadership. And so that limits the ability of family engagement to be on the agenda and to be integrated into these systemic strategies of the district. So I'll give you two examples.

In Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, Baltimore City Public Schools, you've got a senior-level family engagement lead. And so what they did coming out of the pandemic is that the Chief for Engagement and the Chief Academic Officer were able to work together on a Pandemic Recovery Plan that included student learning plans for every student that were co-designed by the teacher, by the student, and by the parent. And you know, any new policy in a large system is going to take some time. It's going to take its lumps. It's going to need to evolve and adjust. But now, they're getting to the point where it's becoming common practice that teachers are supposed to-- or at least expected to-- work closely with parents in order to build those student learning plans.

In Richmond, Virginia, you have a Chief Engagement Officer that was able to reframe attendance as an engagement challenge and redeploy resources. She has a whole dashboard where schools are able to input and track all of the efforts that they do to engage families directly on attendance. And she's able to see that, and she's able to help schools improve. And so now, they're like slowly-- like they've gotten much better attendance outcomes because they have a whole system-wide strategy to address it from the engagement perspective.

So you have senior-level leadership. You have PD time allocated. You have actual time in the teachers' calendars so that they can build a relationship. And you help them build the skills, and get over fears, and be able to feel comfortable and confident and collaborate with one another so that they can start to have more robust engagement strategies in the school that actually lead to improvements for kids.

JILL ANDERSON: We all know that changing the system takes time, but I'm wondering, are there any low-hanging fruits that exist for family engagement that a school district should definitely be doing-- should start as soon as possible if they're not currently doing them?

EYAL BERGMAN: Look, I think at the very least, we should be calling parents and telling them, ‘Hey, I'm going to be your child's teacher this year. I'm really excited to have them in school. I would love to hear a little bit about how last school year went for you, and what you're looking forward to this year.’ And let's have the mindset that we're going to treat parents as humans and then actively reach out to the other side. 

There's a lot of barriers for parents to come up to the school, and it's not just that they're working two or three jobs. It's that school feels like a foreign place to them. It's that they're speaking to an authority. They're speaking to folks that they haven't necessarily had good experiences within their own lives. They may be coming with their own traumas.

So at the very basic, what we should be doing is taking it upon ourselves to reach out to parents. That's the most effective low-hanging fruit, is to reach out, build relationship on the front end. Any teacher will tell you that when you build a relationship with a family on the front end, it more than pays dividends throughout the year.

And so principals, what they can do is they can turn over a whole staff meeting and say, OK, instead of 60 minutes of us talking or me talking at you, I want you to call five parents and tell them how excited you are. And then, bring in PD, and build from there. There's plenty of apps that are helpful, also, for communication, but let's not assume that those apps that are for communication are going to necessarily build trust. We need to do one-on-one trust-building.

JILL ANDERSON: Eyal Bergman is the Senior Vice President at Learning Heroes. I'm Jill Anderson. This is the Harvard EdCast, produced by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Thanks for listening. 

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The Evening

The u.s. aims to boost electric truck sales.

Also, a U.S. reporter has spent a year in a Russian prison. Here’s the latest at the end of Friday.

A large white tractor trailer truck is parked in a lot.

By Matthew Cullen

The Biden administration today announced a new environmental regulation that forces manufacturers of heavy trucks to quickly transition their new vehicles to electric power or other low-pollution technologies.

Together with a similar regulation on passenger cars issued last week , the new rules represent the administration’s most significant effort to transform the transportation industry, which is the nation’s largest source of fossil fuel emissions.

The new rule does not mandate the use of electric motors, but rather sets increasingly strict emissions limits across manufacturers’ production lines. Officials project that it will increase the percentage of new nonpolluting long-haul trucks sold in the U.S. from 2 percent to as much as 25 percent by 2032.

But that won’t be cheap or easy. The shift to electric trucks lags far behind the adoption of electric personal vehicles, in part because electric eighteen-wheelers can cost two or three times as much as a diesel truck and require large, heavy batteries that reduce the truck’s capacity. Also, there are currently only 5,000 charging stations in the U.S. capable of serving heavy trucks, far fewer than what truckers say would be required to make the transition.

Germany, a loyal Israel ally, shifts its tone

For German leaders, support for Israel has long been considered a “Staatsräson,” or national reason for existence, as a way of atoning for the Holocaust. But some officials there have begun to question whether their backing of Israel’s campaign in Gaza has gone too far.

The change in tone is partly a response to fears that Israel will go ahead with its planned invasion of the Gazan city of Rafah — a concern that U.S. officials share.

A U.S. reporter has spent a year in a Russian prison

One year ago today, Russian authorities detained Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, and accused him of spying for the U.S. government. He is the first American reporter to be held on espionage charges in Russia since the end of the Cold War. The U.S. and The Journal vehemently deny the accusations, but this week his detention was extended for another three months.

Vladimir Putin recently said that he would consider trading Gershkovich in a prisoner swap, but my colleague Valerie Hopkins, who covers Russia and knows Gershkovich, said his future is still uncertain. “It’s incredibly difficult to make any kind of agreement at this time,” she told us. “Not a day has gone by when I’m not thinking about what he might be doing.”

For more: We talked to Gershkovich’s parents about their experience.

School absences have spiked since the pandemic

Across the country, an estimated 26 percent of public school students were considered chronically absent during the last school year, up from 15 percent before the pandemic . That spike, educators said, suggests that something fundamental has shifted in American childhood and the culture surrounding school. “Our relationship with school became optional,” one expert said.

Absenteeism has increased in districts big and small, and across income levels and races. But poor communities are facing an even bigger crisis: Around 32 percent of students in the poorest districts of the U.S. were chronically absent during the 2022-23 school year.

More top news

Syria: Airstrikes near Aleppo killed a number of soldiers, state news media reported, in what appeared to be one of the biggest Israeli attacks in the country in years .

Baltimore: President Biden said he would travel to the city next week after the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Markets: The S&P 500 has risen more than 10 percent over the first three months of 2024, with 22 record highs since January.

Health: The F.D.A. warned that a heart pump used as a temporary implant had been linked to 49 deaths, but allowed the device to remain in use .

Housing: Arizona is facing a dire shortage of affordable housing, and it’s sowing economic anxiety among voters .

Education: Applications to Harvard were down this year , even as applications to many other highly selective schools hit record highs.

Wildlife: In a move to protect whales, Polynesian Indigenous groups signed a treaty that recognizes them as legal persons .

Arts: Louis Gossett Jr., the first Black man to win the Oscar for best supporting actor, for his portrayal of a drill instructor in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” died at 87 .


Beyoncé stretches the meaning of genre.

Beyoncé’s new album, “Cowboy Carter,” which was released this morning, is as country as expected: The star’s twang shines through, and Dolly Parton makes an appearance. But Beyoncé doesn’t stop with one, or even two, genres . She covers the Beatles’ song “Blackbird,” draws inspiration from the Beach Boys and even flexes some opera skills .

The album includes a slew of famous collaborators, including Willie Nelson, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. We took a look at some of the significant figures and musicians behind the scenes .

Literary allusions are everywhere

You might not always recognize it, but the literary allusion is ubiquitous. Consider the recent major novels “Birnam Wood” and “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.” Both borrowed their titles from “Macbeth.”

While it’s common now, this kind of appropriation seems to be a relatively modern phenomenon, our critic A.O. Scott writes . You may even be surprised by how often allusions appear. Take our quiz to see how many literary references you can recognize .

Dinner table topics

Is appointment television back? A reboot of “Gladiators,” the musclebound 1990s staple, has attracted millions of viewers in Britain .

Extra large: Where do NCAA basketball’s tallest players find clothes that fit? It’s not so simple .

Saving San Francisco: Is the tech investor Garry Tan the city’s “Twitter menace” or true believer? He might be both .

Quadruple axel: Champion figure skaters accomplish their extraordinary jumps and spins by rewiring their brains .


Cook: Add baked eggs with kale, bacon and cornbread crumbs to your Easter table.

Watch: Are you a pop culture-obsessed weirdo? Try this alternative to Netflix and Hulu.

Read: Our critics and editors recommend these eight new books .

Plan: What to do with 36 hours in Mumbai .

Protect: We answered your burning questions about sunscreen .

List: Feeling overwhelmed? Try tallying your tiny wins .

Drink: Here are 10 Austrian red wines to try.

Compete: Take this week’s news quiz .

Play: Here are today’s Spelling Bee , Wordle and Mini Crossword . Find all our games here .


How the bunny became cute.

If you look around this weekend, you’ll notice that cute bunnies are everywhere: in chocolate, in children’s toys and even at the White House. But it wasn’t always this way. Early versions of the Easter Bunny were enigmatic and omniscient figures, as likely to punish a naughty child as reward a good one.

It wasn’t until the late 1930s, following a series of hit children’s books, that the bunny became the cuddly character we know today .

Have a darling Easter weekend.

Thanks for reading. Daniel E. Slotnik contributed to today’s newsletter. I’ll be back on Monday. — Matthew

We welcome your feedback. Write to us at [email protected] .


  1. (PDF) Causes of Student Absenteeism and School Dropouts

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  2. Chapter2 Tardiness inRelationToAcademicPerformance

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  3. (PDF) A Qualitative Research Study on School Absenteeism Among College

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  4. Conceptual Framework

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  1. PDF The Problem of Student Absenteeism, Its Impact on Educational

    absenteeism rates were identified, and the provincial and district directorates of national education where these schools are located tried to take the necessary measures (MoNE, 2019). 1.1.The Reasons for Student Absenteeism The reasons for student absenteeism are discussed under the family, student, environment, school and

  2. School attendance and school absenteeism: A primer for the past

    In addition, school absenteeism comprises a spectrum of attendance problems that can include full or partial day absences, missing classes, tardiness, student/family problems in the morning, and distress, somatic complaints, and other psychological problems that interfere with school attendance (Li et al., 2021; Kearney and Gonzálvez, 2022).

  3. The Effects of Absenteeism on Academic and Social-Emotional Outcomes

    Taken together with evidence that significant numbers of students were absent from virtual schooling opportunities for longer periods than normal during the COVID-19 pandemic (EdWeek Research Center, 2020; Hamilton et al., 2020) and that absenteeism was highest among students of color and disadvantaged groups (Besecker et al., 2020), our ...

  4. On Time: A Qualitative Study of Swedish Students', Parents' and

    Tardiness is a common problem in many schools. It can be understood as an individual risk for future problematic behavior leading to absenteeism, school dropout, exclusion and later health problems. Tardiness can also be examined in relation to a broader social-ecological perspective on health. The aim of this study was to analyze students', school staff's and parents' views on students ...

  5. School Absenteeism and Academic Achievement: Does the Reason for

    However, being absent from school can result from various reasons, including truancy, sickness, or family holidays. Although these specific reasons for school absence can be differently associated with students' academic achievement, there is a dearth of research examining the extent to which associations between absenteeism and achievement vary by these precise reasons (Hancock et al., 2018).

  6. Effective Classroom Management Strategies to Address Student

    In this article, we will explore some. effective classroom management strategies that can help address a nd reduce student absenteeism. and tardiness. Establish Clear Expectations. Setting clear ...

  7. Reducing student absences at scale by targeting parents ...

    Main. Student absenteeism in the United States is astonishingly high. Among US public school students, over 10% are chronically absent each year (defined as missing 18 or more days of school) 1, 2 ...

  8. Absenteeism: A Review of the Literature and School Psychology's Role

    absenteeism have reached as high as 30% in some cities. In New York City, an estimated 150,000 out. of 1,000,000 students are absent daily (DeKalb, 1999). Similarly, the Los Angeles Unified School ...

  9. The impact of timetable on student's absences and performance

    This article first aimed at demonstrating the impact of absences and timetabling design on student's academic performance. Secondly, this study showed that the number of absences can be caused by three main timetable design factors: namely, (1) the number of courses per semester, (2) the average number of lectures per day and (3) the average ...

  10. Investigating the reasons for students' attendance in and absenteeism

    Introduction. Academic performance is one of the most critical issues of students in higher education. Since learning requires attendance and active participation in classes, attendance in classes is thought to be an essential factor in students' academic performance.[1,2,3] Previously, it was believed that students with a high attendance rate were more successful at the end of their course.[]

  11. Student absenteeism

    Student absenteeism is a puzzle composed of multiple pieces that has a significant influence on education outcomes, including graduation and the probability of dropping out. ... Indicators of bullying, school safety, student tardiness, truancy, level of parental involvement, and other factors that are relevant to school climate, well-being, and ...

  12. The Effects of An Intervention Program on Tardiness, Absenteeism, and

    Student achievement cannot be attained without regular school attendance. When students continually fail to come to school and/or are consistently tardy to class, their academic performance declines (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012). Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing ten percent or more of the school year (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012).

  13. The School Absenteeism among High School Students ...

    to answer a question that is why high school students miss classes. In this notion, Teasley have noted numerous risk factors that contribute to student absenteeism such. as family health, low ...

  14. PDF District Strategies to Reduce Student Absenteeism

    Absences decrease students' test scores, course grades, and on-time graduation. Missing school regularly also reduces students' self-efficacy, eagerness to learn, and social engagement. The negative effects of school absences are larger for low-performing, low-income, and English learner students. Students who are chronically absent in ...

  15. On Time: A Qualitative Study of Swedish Students', Parents' and

    1.1. Absenteeism. Many factors influence student achievement, directly and indirectly. Students who are absent from school are a major problem in Sweden [] and in many other countries [20,21].Swedish headmasters reported that during 2015, 1.7 per mille of all students in grades 1 to 9 were reported absent for a month or more, but 18.5 per mille (or 18,361 students) were reported as being ...

  16. PDF The Secretary of Education

    tracking and intervention systems that identify students who are—or are at risk of becoming— chronically absent. More real-time reporting allows schools to quickly adjust programming in response to downward trends in student absenteeism, often mitigating the need for more expensive and intensive interventions.

  17. The Cause of Tardiness among Senior High School Students

    In addition, Nakpodia and the Dafiaghor (2011) stated that tardiness eventually leads to absenteeism. Tardy students feel the extent of their lateness and very often they just decide to be absent. The tardiness of a student also disturbs other students and the teacher, distracting the flow and system of the whole class.

  18. Post-COVID Absenteeism in Schools

    As post-COVID absenteeism rates continue unabated, a look at how strong family-school engagement can help. Family engagement plays a pivotal role in combating chronic absenteeism, says Eyal Bergman, Ed.L.D.'21, senior vice president at Learning Heroes. The number of students who are chronically absent — missing 10% or more of the school ...


    teachers, weak school management, high education cost and weather c ondition can. cause absenteeism. Mervilde (1981) also reveals that; family health or financial. concerns, poor school ...

  20. Practical- Research-1

    For example, obesity, chronic illness, and chronic pain all appear to significantly predict higher levels of student absenteeism (Palermo,2000); Sato, et al.,2007). In addition, researchers have found that teen pregnancy (Kirby,2002) and drug/alcohol use (Roebuck, French, & Dennis,2004) are also significant predictors of student absenteeism. 7

  21. A Crisis of School Absences

    And widespread absenteeism means less stability about which friends and classmates will be there. This can beget more absenteeism. For example, research has found that when 10 percent of a student ...


    The primary aim of the study was to improve the punctuality of identified middle school students by providing them with rewards and incentive on the observation of each decrease in their tardiness ...

  23. Why School Absences Have 'Exploded' Almost Everywhere

    Today, student absenteeism is a leading factor hindering the nation's recovery from pandemic learning losses, educational experts say. Students can't learn if they aren't in school. Students ...

  24. The U.S. Aims to Boost Electric Truck Sales

    Officials project that it will increase the percentage of new nonpolluting long-haul trucks sold in the U.S. from 2 percent to as much as 25 percent by 2032. But that won't be cheap or easy. The ...

  25. (PDF) Probable causes of absenteeism, tardiness and under time of

    Absenteeism, tardiness and undertime cannot be avoided by the teaching and non-teaching staff due to other circumstances like personal and family matters, relationship with their colleague, career ...