A million absent students in the 2020-21 school year have teachers concerned about the graduating classes for the next 12 years.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on a Gallup survey that targeted teachers in the U.S. In the survey, nearly half of all public school teachers said they had at least one student who was enrolled but ‘unaccounted for,’ never attending a single class through the whole school year. Three-fourths of those teachers said that was more missing students than in previous years.

According to the GAO, the numbers were not consistent across states or even school districts. 50 to 60 percent of teachers working in high-poverty schools reported having students missing, versus less than 30 percent of teachers at schools in higher-income areas. Teachers in majority-POC schools were 56 percent likely to have an unaccounted-for student, versus 45 percent in majority-white schools. Older students were more likely to be missing than younger students, but the increase in missing students was higher (80 percent of K-2 teachers reported more missing students than in previous years) than the increase in older students (70 percent of 8-12 teachers).

Maybe the most surprising statistic is that it didn’t seem to matter if the classes involved were in-person or virtual. 71 percent of teachers in both groups reported that they had more missing students in 2020-21 than in previous years. Teaches of virtual classes identified lack of parent support and lack of access as the primary cause, while teachers of in-person classes attributed it to increased demands on the students at home – things like caregiving for younger siblings or older family members, or work – or homelessness.

It’s important to note a million absent students does not imply a million missing children – while state laws vary, most states do a home check of some manner when a student is truant for too long. These are simply students who have not connected with their schools.

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