Boston 25 Gets Real: What’s being done to track down missing students in local schools

Mass — Academic recovery has been slow post-pandemic and new data shows kids are falling through the cracks, with hundreds of thousands of students missing from school rolls.

The Associated Press and Stanford University’s Big Local News Project studied the numbers. Nationally, student enrollment went down by 700,000 between 2019-2022. Subtract private school enrollment at 102,000; the 184,000 students now homeschooling and the 183,000 kids lost due to population decline, you have roughly 230,000 kids unaccounted for by districts in the U.S.

Here in Massachusetts, enrollment dropped by about 35,000 students, with more than 1,200 kids unaccounted for.

Stanford University Professor Thomas Dee authored the study.

“In California and in Massachusetts. We’ve we’re seeing chronic absenteeism rates that are fully two times what they were during the pre-pandemic period...and this is going to vex our efforts to have academic recovery,” says Dee.

Takai Coston tells Boston 25 he struggled during remote learning in the pandemic. His mom had a new baby at home, money was tight and he felt socially isolated. So when it was time to transition back to high school, in-person, Takai says he topped going.

“At first I’d go on off, like, I’ll come some days, I won’t come one day. But then eventually, like, I just stopped coming completely,” says Coston. He told Boston 25′s Crystal Haynes, in all that time no one checked to make sure he was okay.

Boston Public Schools tells Boston 25 News, 48% of students over 16 years old are experiencing chronic absenteeism this year. But, overall truancy dropped 7% since last year, down from 42% to 35%.

BPS Director of Opportunity Youth, Brian Marques, says the district believes things are moving in the right direction. He says staff knocked on doors during the pandemic and they have beefed up re-engagement center efforts to re-connect families.

“Supervisors of attendance in our department, they will support more complex cases with students that have really extreme absenteeism,” says Marques. “But they’re also working on site in schools with school attendance teams to help train their staff.””

When Boston 25 sat down with local students like Takai Coston and Miko Clarke to ask why they’re not going, the answers were complicated. Clarke was an honors student at one of Boston’s exam schools. He says he battled depression and navigated coming out as transgender during lockdown. Now he says his mom is struggling financially and his sister is balancing health issues.

“She just found out that she’s, like, gone legally blind and she still has to work,” Clarke says of his sister. “She has two kids right now. So it’s a little hard.”

Miko tells me his grades are dropping and he skips school frequently. He also says he’s not getting the support he needs even when he comes to school and teachers assuming the worst of him.

“It hurts because sometimes I come into school and I’m ready to do what I need to do,” says Clarke.

Haynes asked Marques, how do we catch kids who are struggling since the pandemic. Marques says developing deeper relationships and deeper connections to the school community is a priority. “It’s an ongoing effort. We need to remain diligent to ensure that we are always following up with every student if they we’ve lost contact with them,” he said.

But Professor Dee says districts also have to put their money where their mouth is. He points to a national survey of school business professionals that shows districts spent twice as much pandemic relief money on technology and broadband investments as it did on student supports.

“We could provide the best tutoring options and instructional supports, but if kids aren’t there to receive them, it’s not going to have the impact we would like to see.”

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