Saunders: Schools’ student absence rates should alarm everyone

National math and reading scores have hit historic lows, Education Week reported in October.

By Debra J. Saunders /

Woody Allen famously said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” If he’s right, that’s bad news for some 30 percent of public-school students who, according to a recent study conducted by Stanford Professor Thomas Dee, were chronically absent in the school year that ended in 2022.

Chronically absent means a student missed 10 percent or more school days during the school year.

When schools were closed due to covid, the pandemic had an adverse effect on student learning.

Now that they are open, you would think American parents would be more motivated to make sure their children don’t miss a day of school than they were before covid.

To the contrary, after teachers unions and elected officials turned staying home into a virtue, parents are more likely to let their kids take a day off than they were in 2019.

National math and reading scores have hit historic lows, Education Week reported in October. “Two decades of progress, nearly gone,” read the headline.

Minority students were affected disproportionately. Crickets.

If conservatives had launched an initiative that damaged public school performance to this extent, the media would be all over this story and would be demanding that elected officials who supported closures be held accountable.

California was one of the last states to return to in-person learning’ yet Gov. Gavin Newsom won reelection in 2022 by some 2 million votes. Support from pro-closure teachers unions didn’t hurt.

That says something about the tribalism that infects the left; no argument, it taints the right as well.

Former President Donald Trump wanted to open schools sooner. He was right, but that’s water under the bridge.

What lesson can we learn here? If you’re a Democrat in a blue state, you can enable policies that shortchange students in service to special interests and you will pay no political penalty. Children be damned.

Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at Copyright 2023,

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