Oregon kids of color are cutting too many classes

By William MacKenzie,

Our children are not alright.

In the 2015-16 school year, alarms went off when one in six K-12 children were chronically absent at Oregon’s public schools..

The legislature was so concerned it enacted a bill which directed the Oregon Department of Education and the Chief Education Office to jointly develop a statewide education plan to address the problem.

So much for that.

In the 2021-2022 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, 36.1% of Oregon’s K-12 students were chronically absent from school, absent for more than 10% of the academic year. Only Hawaii at 37%, Michigan at 38.5% and the District of Columbia at 48.1%, had higher rates of chronic absenteeism.

Children who are chronically absent in their early years of schooling are likelier than their peers to struggle to read at grade level by the end of second grade and students still struggling at the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, according to research supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Center for Demographic Analysis, University at Albany, State University of New York.

For the worst readers, those who could not master even the basic skills by third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater.

By the ninth grade, every week a student misses reduces that student’s chance of graduating by about 20 percentage points.

Oregon media have reported on this absenteeism, but the general take has been that it is a system-wide problem.  What they’ve mostly missed is the high rates of absenteeism among kids of color.

An exhaustive review of Oregon Department of Education data on absenteeism at Oregon school districts in the 2021-2022 school year reveals substantial differences in rates of absenteeism between white students and students of color.

“The long-term consequences of disengaging from school  are devastating,” says Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, a nonprofit addressing chronic absenteeism. For children of color, the consequences can be particularly severe.

In other words, for all the money Oregon is pouring into its schools to improve the academic performance of kids of color, it’s not going to make any damn difference if kids of color don’t show up.

Here are some sobering numbers from a few school districts around the state:

School District Category % Chronically Absent
Corvallis School District 509J White 33.5
Hispanic/Latino 43.5
West Linn-Wilsonville SD 3J White 27.9
Black/African American 32.9
Hispanic/Latino 43.9
American Indian/Alaska Native 76.2
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 45.2
North Clackamas SD 12 White 28.5
Black/African American 33.2
Hispanic/Latino 41.1
American Indian/Alaska Native 40.5
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 50.8
Gladstone SD 115 White 32
Black/African American 46.7
Hispanic/Latino 52.3
Astoria SD1 White 35.1
Hispanic/Latino 43.1
American Indian/Alaska Native 58.3
Bend-LaPine SD1 White 39.6
Black/African American 40
Hispanic/Latino 54.5
American Indian/Alaska Native 49.3
Redmond SD 2J White 37.8
Hispanic/Latino 43.4
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 47.8
American Indian/Alaska Native 57.4
Douglas County SD4 White 44.4
Hispanic/Latino 50.4
American Indian/Alaska Native 62.9
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 54.5
Springfield SD19 White 41.9
Black/African American 52.3
Hispanic/Latino 47.9
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 72.3
Salem-Keizer SD 24J White 39.7
Black/African American 41.9
Hispanic/Latino 53.7
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 63.7
Portland SD 1J White 27.1
Black/African American 55
Hispanic/Latino 47.1
American Indian/Alaska Native 68.8
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 63.1