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Chronic Absenteeism Worse in States That Closed Schools Longer


A new preprint is out from a professor at Stanford, that analyzes the Chronic Absenteeism rates from before and after the pandemic. The paper analyzed mask mandates, enrollment changes, and the percentage increase in Chronic Absenteeism at a state level. Below is a chart that shows the increase between the 2018/19 School year, and the 2021/22 School Year.

The paper is a great start at an essential analysis that quantifies the massive “unintended” effect of the pandemic response. One measure that was not analyzed in the original paper was the length of school closures. Since professor Dee provided his raw data, it allowed me to add in the lengths of school closures – defined as the percentage of time in 2020/21 that the state’s schools were virtual only. Below is the results.

State-level analysis is not always optimal, as you are capturing a variety of policy responses that were different between school districts. A more granular analysis at district level, with more data points, would be more appropriate to be able to determine a stronger pattern. However, even with 40 individual data points, there is a very modest relationship. As with anything, there are many other factors involved that influence absenteeism.

However, as you can see, many states that have the longest closures also had the largest increase in absenteeism. DC, Oregon, Maryland, Washington, California, New Mexico, and Arizona all closed schools for more than half of the 2020/21 school year. States like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, South Dakota, Nebraska, and North Dakota all remained open the majority of 2020/21 and saw far smaller absenteeism rate increases. 

Mask Mandates and Chronic Absenteeism Increase

Another interesting part of this paper’s analysis was the effect of mask mandates. The statistical analysis in the paper found that the mask mandates had no statistical effect on absenteeism at all. 

For all of the claims about how masks kept kids in school, the actual evidence contradicts that claim completely. This also corroborates with a previous analysis I conducted here

Below is each state’s Absenteeism Increase by Mask mandate status.

This paper is exactly the type of analysis that is crucial to quantifying the effect of Covid Policy response on our children’s education. Unfortunately, it’s after the fact. Many warned of the devastating unintended consequences of school closures. Our politicized, polarized culture clouded the judgment of our education leaders when it really counted.

Hopefully, analysis like this will make its way into considerations for policy response in the future that considers all costs and harms and minimizes the reactionary and politicized policies we adopted during Covid.

Republished from the author’s Substack

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • Josh Stevenson

    Josh lives in Nashville Tennessee and is a data visualization expert who focuses on creating easy to understand charts and dashboards with data. Throughout the pandemic, he has provided analysis to support local advocacy groups for in-person learning and other rational, data-driven covid policies. His background is in computer systems engineering & consulting, and his Bachelor’s degree is in Audio Engineering. His work can be found on his substack “Relevant Data.”

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