Educational freedom: The overlooked answer to chronic absenteeism

(The Daily Signal) – Schools across the country are struggling to get students to show up reliably.

The best estimates suggest more than 1 in 4 American students are chronically absent….

(The Daily Signal) – Schools across the country are struggling to get students to show up reliably.

The best estimates suggest more than 1 in 4 American students are chronically absent. That’s double the rate in 2019, when absenteeism was already a serious problem.

School superintendents have resorted to pleading with families on Facebook Live, bribing students with field trips, and even knocking on doors to urge parents to ensure their children arrive each day.

The futility of these efforts would be comical if there weren’t so much at stake. School closings due to COVID-19 wiped out more than two decades of educational progress.

But the situation isn’t hopeless. Most education pundits and school administrators wringing their hands about the chronic absenteeism crisis are missing an essential remedy: educational freedom.

Students won’t consistently show up for school until we have school models tailored to the needs of every family, learning experiences that engage students more than scrolling on a cellphone, and strong school cultures that say attendance isn’t optional.

We can have these only if every family can choose the learning option that works best for their children.

When schools shut down in the early days of the pandemic—and then dragged their feet reopening—they sent parents the message that school was no longer essential.

Is your child a bit under the weather? Do they feel like taking a mental health day? Are you a little slow getting moving this morning? Just stay home and try again tomorrow.

This cultural shift goes beyond schools. Church attendance remains below pre-pandemic levels. Companies still struggle to bring employees back to the office.

In the years since the pandemic, surveys by EdChoice have consistently shown that roughly half of parents want to keep their children home from school at least one day a week.

But if every school cut back schedules to fit these families’ preferences, it would fail to meet the needs of others who still want a full week of in-person classes.

Educational freedom is the only answer.

Let educators design a mix of high-quality online, hybrid, and in-person learning options, and let families choose the model that works best for them.

The latest EdChoice survey finds nearly two-thirds of American teens think school is boring. More than 1 in 5 reported missing school because of lack of interest.

We can do better.

I lead an organization that uses virtual reality to deliver immersive learning experiences. When students can tour the Egyptian pyramids and study a whale’s anatomy in 3D, they look forward to history and science classes.

At OptimaEd, we are expanding to states that offer education savings accounts. These accounts allow families to direct public education funding to the options of their choice.

When families make an affirmative decision to send their child to a specific school, and teachers make an affirmative decision to work there, they buy into a shared vision for how that school will run. If leaders set an expectation that students will show up, they can be confident that their families will comply.

State leaders and school superintendents can no longer force students to show up for a one-size-fits-all system.

Schooling in America will never return to pre-pandemic normal. Students and families are demanding more options. Let’s allow parents to direct their public education funding and to support entrepreneurs who create excellent schools that parents trust and students actually want.