13 percent of US students chronically absent from school, new report finds

Posted June 7, 2016 12:02 a.m. EDT
Updated June 7, 2016 12:49 a.m. EDT

— The U.S. Department of Education released new data Tuesday showing that 6.5 million students – or 13 percent of all students nationwide – were chronically absent from school in 2013-14.

A student is considered chronically absent after missing 15 or more days in a school year for any reason – excused or unexcused.

The agency also reported that 2.8 million K-12 students received one or more out-of-school suspensions – a nearly 20 percent decrease from the number of out-of-school suspensions reported two years earlier.

Those are just some of the findings in the U.S. education department's latest Civil Rights Data Collection reportSchool- and district-level data will be released this fall. The report is released every two years and includes data on topics such as bullying and harassment, student discipline, access to math/science and AP courses and more. ​

Among the 2013-14 report's findings:

Student discipline

  • Black preschool children are 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as are white preschool students.
  • In kindergarten through the 12th grade, black students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended as are white students. Black students also are nearly twice as likely to be expelled – removed from school with no services – as are white students.
  • Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely as students without disabilities to be suspended in K-12 settings. They also represent two-thirds of students who are secluded from their classmates or restrained to prevent them from moving – even though they are only 12 percent of the overall student population.

Access to advanced courses

  • More than half of high schools do not offer calculus, four in 10 do not offer physics, more than one in four do not offer chemistry, and more than one in five do not offer Algebra II, which is considered a gateway class for success in college.
  • Only a third of high schools with high black and Latino enrollments offer calculus, compared to 56 percent of those that serve low numbers of black and Latino students.
  • Less than half the high schools with high black and Latino enrollments offer physics, while two in three high schools that have low numbers of black and Latino student offer physics.
  • English learners have disproportionately low participation rates in Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs: while English learners are 11 percent of all students in schools offering GATE programs, fewer than 3 percent of GATE students nationwide are English learners.
  • Black and Latino students also participate at lower rates in Gifted and Talented Education programs. Although black and Latino students make up 42 percent of students enrolled in schools that offer GATE programs, they are only 28 percent of the students who participate in those programs.
  • Girls are underrepresented in some advanced coursework such as physics, but not in others such as calculus.

Teacher and staffing equity

  • 10 percent of the teachers in schools with high numbers of black and Latino students are in their first year of teaching, compared to only 5 percent in schools with low numbers of black and Latino students.
  • 11 percent of black students, 9 percent of Latino students and 7 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native students attend schools where more than 20 percent of teachers are in their first year of teaching, compared to 5 percent of white students.
  • More than 20 percent of high schools lack any school counselor.
  • 1.6 million students attend a school with a sworn law enforcement officer but not a school counselor.

The federal government has collected civil rights data about schools since 1968, but this is the first time the agency has released chronic student absenteeism data. The 2013-14 report also includes several other new topics:

  • Access to educational programs in justice facilities
  • Availability of distance education, including online courses
  • The presence of sworn law enforcement officers in schools (including school resource officers)
  • Availability of partially or fully cost-subsidized preschool
  • Whether the district has a civil rights coordinator

U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr. says the data "are more than numbers and charts – they illustrate in powerful and troubling ways disparities in opportunities and experiences that different groups of students have in our schools."