Empty Desks: The Effects of Chronic Absenteeism

Educators tell us that students who miss 20 or more days of school in an academic year—and there are 85,000 of them in Maryland—have lower test scores, lower graduation rates and even lower chances of getting into college or of breaking the cycle of poverty.

WYPR’s Gwendolyn Glenn is spending the next year meeting with educators, students, parents, researchers and others to explore the causes and effects of chronic absenteeism and the solutions being offered by city and county officials.

Empty Desks is made possible through a grant from the Open Society Institute—Baltimore.


Listen to Empty Desks stories:

Overview of absenteeism

Why Some Homeless Students Travel 2 Hours To School

Getting To School Is Harder Than You Think

Baltimore Teachers Struggle To Keep Chronically Absent Students On Track

Chronic Absenteeism--A Look At The Numbers

In City Schools, Climate Change Is Not About The Weather

Illness: A Barrier To Attending School

In Ghana, School Absenteeism And Poverty Go Hand-In-Hand

One School's Battle With Chronic Absenteeism

A Bright Spot In The Battle Against Chronic Absenteeism

Contact Gwendolyn Glenn at gglenn@wypr.org

Gwendolyn Glenn / WYPR

At some schools in Baltimore city, 65 percent of students miss 20 or more days of school annually.

Gwendolyn Glenn / WYPR

This month, Baltimore city school's interim Superintendent Tisha Edwards warned 61 principals that they could face disciplinary action if they don’t reduce high chronic absenteeism rates in their schools.

In the West African country of Ghana, 98 percent of the country's primary and secondary students are enrolled in school, but in some areas, a significant number do not attend classes regularly.  

Another installment in our year-long series Empty Desks: The Effects of Chronic Absenteeism

Another installment in our year-long series Empty Desks: The Effects of Chronic Absenteeism

With more than 17,000 Baltimore students missing more than 20 days of school last year, it is no surprise that school officials are seeking ways to change the climate in their schools. Last week, school police and administrators from 50 Baltimore schools attended “climate training” workshops to help them do just that.

Maryland State Department of Education

A web-exclusive installment in our year-long series Empty Desks: The Effects of Chronic Absenteeism.

Chronic absenteeism—missing 20 days or more of school in a year—dropped in Baltimore city last year, but only by about 2 percent. This graph compares school years 2009-2010, 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available. The numbers were compiled by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Gwendolyn Glenn / WYPR

Nearly a quarter of Baltimore city’s public school students are considered chronically absent. They miss more than 20 days of school every year. And that puts added pressure on teachers to bring those students up to speed without boring everyone else.

More than 17,000 Baltimore students miss 20 or more days of school a year. Many of these chronically absent students and their parents say transportation is a major reason for their absences. That’s because nearly 30,000 city students use public transportation to get to school—students like 13-year-old Juwan Nobel and his 9-year-old brother Javon  Nobel.

Why Some Homeless Students Travel 2 Hours to School

Mar 14, 2013

Baltimore city school officials say the number of homeless students enrolled in the district so far, 1,900, is higher than it was last year at this time. What’s just as worrisome for officials is that 44 percent of those students are chronically absent from school.


"What is that?"

"Dry bees."

Forty-year-old Jeanae Paul’s children arrive from school, eager to tell her about their day.

"We’re doing an African dance for Black History Month."

"That is very nice."

Because Paul has a large family, only three of her children live with her at Sarah’s Hope, a homeless shelter for women and children in Reisterstown. Her husband lives in a different shelter and so does another daughter.