Where are the Kids?: A Vibe Check on America’s Classrooms


Tired curriculum and classrooms, a lack of pathways to the future and missing educators create an intractable chronic absenteeism crisis in public education


May 1, 2024, Boston, MA –  With more than one-in-four (26%) public school students chronically absent, according to the latest data, up from 15 percent before the pandemic, the National Parents Union (NPU) surveyed parents of K-12 public school students about the attendance crisis.

The new NPU poll found the plurality of parents agree that in order to solve chronic absenteeism, schools need to be more fun, engaging, or worthwhile for children.

In fact, when considering the attendance issue generally, the most common reason parents believe students are chronically absent, according to the NPU poll, is that children don’t want to attend school. This perception is supported by a recent report from Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation, which found just 48% of Gen Zers enrolled in middle or high school feel motivated to go to school. As for the reasons parents provided in the NPU survey for their own child being absent, illnesses, doctors’ appointments and the weather topped the list.

“The idea that chronic absenteeism can simply be chalked up to lazy kids and unconcerned parents is the laziest and most uninformed take, and yet, that’s the excuse we most often hear,” said Keri Rodrigues, President of the National Parents Union. “The truth is, there has been a dramatic erosion of trust between the education system and too many families are questioning the value of what’s happening in the nation’s classrooms. We need to do more than just spam parents with text and email alerts that their children are not in school – but address the growing problem of kids feeling bored and disconnected. Schools must reimagine the classroom experience so that kids feel engaged and confident that the time they put in will give them purpose and pave the way toward economic mobility and a brighter future.”

The National Parents Union previously conducted polling that demonstrated shortcomings among schools and their ability to effectively connect with students:

  • 94% of parents say it is important for their child’s school to provide pathways plans for a variety of college and career opportunities to help prepare them for the future (February 2024)
  • Nearly four-in-ten parents (38%) gave their child’s school an average or poor grade when it comes to creating a clear pathway to transition from school to a future career (October 2023)
  • 64% of parents believe schools need to be doing more to ensure college-bound students and students who choose a different pathway have equally good opportunities to prepare for their future while in high school (May 2023)
  • 63% of parents want a complete overhaul or major changes to the K-12 public education system (November 2023)

It’s not just students who are missing school at an alarming rate. Many districts are struggling with teacher absenteeism, as well. In New York City, for example, nearly one in five educators were absent more than 10 days during the 2022-2023 school year, a figure that is also up from pre-pandemic. Teacher absenteeism coupled with a shortage of substitute teachers, which disproportionately impacts low-income communities, has exacerbated challenges in schools and created disconnected learning environments.

Rodrigues added, “Teachers aren’t showing up regularly. Kids are being packed into auditoriums to watch movies because substitutes are in short supply. It’s no wonder families don’t view school as ‘required’ as they might have previously, and frankly, we can’t blame them. If the adults leading our nation’s classrooms are struggling with making it into the building, it makes sense that the children depending on them to engage with education might also be matching their energy.”

National Parents Union Survey

N= 1506 parents of public school students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade
Sample from online web panels
Field Dates: March 26-27 2024
Margin of sampling error: ± 2.8 percentage points
Click here for toplines.


With nearly 1,500 affiliated parent organizations in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, the National Parents Union is the united, independent voice of modern American families. We channel the power of parents into powerful policies that improve the lives of children, families and communities across the United States.