Michigan’s alarming student attendance problem

Michigan’s alarming student attendance problem

(Mich.) Researchers at the University of Michigan took a close look at attendance in the state’s public schools and found some troubling trends.

For one, Michigan has the sixth highest statewide rate for chronic absenteeism in the country. Close to one third of all black students fell into the chronic category, along with 24 percent of students with disabilities.

But the subgroup with the most startling problem were homeless students: of which 40 percent were chronically absent during the 2016-17 school year.

In some districts, the numbers were even starker: 86 percent of homeless students enrolled in Detroit Public Schools were chronically absent; 72 percent in the city schools of River Rouge; and 69 percent among those attending Wayne-Westland Community School District.

“These rates are cause for alarm,” said Jennifer Erb-Downward, senior researcher at University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions Program and lead author of the attendance report.

“If we are going to improve our state’s education system, we need to figure out how to help kids get to school,” she said in a statement. “The data show that to do that we have to address the impact of homelessness and poverty.”

Research has clearly established the link between positive school attendance and greater academic success, just as poor attendance correlates with poor classroom performance. Some studies have also shown absenteeism correlates with less optimistic life outcomes, including incarceration rates and reliance on social services.

Chronic absenteeism is defined in Michigan state law as a student who misses more than 10 percent of the school year for any reason, including excused absences.

According to the university poverty program, there are more than 36,000 children in Michigan’s elementary, middle and high schools who face homelessness.

By sheer number, the lion’s share of students reported to be homeless is highest in the state’s urban areas, but some of the highest rates of homelessness were found in the state’s smallest districts, the university team said.

Just under half of all students in Michigan were either already homeless or living with families that teetered on the edge of becoming so.

Economically disadvantaged and homeless students together represented three-quarters, or 75 percent, of all students who were chronically absent from school, the university reported.

Recommendations to reverse these trends, the researchers said, revolved around schools doing a better job of using data to identify students before they fall into the chronic classification.

“Early identification and outreach to students and families is vital for improving school attendance,” they said. “It is easy, however, to miss early patterns of school absence that place students at risk for chronic absenteeism.”

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