Phelps reflects a national trend in which high schools across the country have both high absenteeism and high graduation rates. A recent national study by the U.S. Department of Education showed that about one in sevenstudents missed 15 days or more during the 2013-14 school year – the year before the national high school graduation rate hit an all-time high of 84 percent.
Students aren’t the only ones not showing up – absenteeism is also common among teachers. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, foundthat in 2013-2014, at least one-fifth of traditional public-school teachers missed more than 10 days in 32 of the 35 states studied. According to federal data, in 2015, more than 41 percent of Rhode Island’s teachers were absent more than 10 days of the year. That was an increase from under 40 percent in 2013, but Rhode Island’s graduation rate nevertheless has hit an all-time high.
“It’s really easy to graduate more kids,” said David Griffith, a policy associate at the Fordham Institute. “You just graduate them.”
RealClearInvestigations contacted departments of education in all 50 states seeking to compare their school attendance rates with their graduation rates. Eleven provided comparable school-by-school data for 2016-2017, and in almost all of them, the same trend was present: Many schools had high rates of chronic absenteeism – students missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason – while still reporting high rates of students who graduated from high school in four years.
Among those states – California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee – it wasn’t hard to find schools where roughly a third of the students were chronically absent: