EDUCATION | States try new tactics to fight chronic absenteeism
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On Jan. 10, Massachusetts’ Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced it was running new English and Spanish television and radio ads encouraging families to prioritize children’s school attendance. “School,” says state Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler in one ad, “can be a place to heal.”
Chronic absenteeism has more than doubled in Massachusetts elementary schools since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty-two percent of all Massachusetts students missed at least 18 days of school during the 2022-23 school year, up from 13 percent pre-pandemic. Like other states, Massachusetts is trying new tactics to boost attendance.
In Indiana, 1 in 5 K-12 students was chronically absent last year, with the highest rates among high schoolers and kindergartners. The state’s Department of Education said its chronic absenteeism rate had dropped since the previous year but remained 8 percentage points higher than it was pre-pandemic. In October, the state announced plans for an early warning dashboard that would consider data including attendance and inform parents when their child might be at risk of not graduating.
Elsewhere in the United States, some districts have hired private companies to check up on students and bolster attendance, ProPublica reported Jan. 8. Advocates say reasons for absenteeism can include poverty, mental health problems, or a greater concern about illness. Some families blame paperwork requirements or lax study habits their children developed during online learning.
China builds the schools; Iraq delivers the oil
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani cut a ribbon ceremonially to open a new school in Nasiriyah, Iraq, on Jan. 8. A Chinese company built the school as part of a construction deal Iraq made with two Chinese firms in 2021. The Chinese project—involving the construction of 1,000 Iraqi schools—is expected to be completed this year. Iraq is using oil products to pay for the new buildings. The nation reportedly needs about 8,000 new schools to accommodate students after years of war destroyed many schools and COVID-19 restrictions further hampered education.
China has expanded its influence in other Iraqi sectors as well: Chinese firms have built health facilities and power plants and reconstructed an international airport. Some observers worry China is drawing Iraq into dependence while also benefiting from Iraq’s oil resources. —L.D.