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MI Schools Explore Ways to Battle Chronic Absenteeism

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Friday, July 7, 2023   

It's hard for kids to think about going back to school quite yet but districts in Michigan are already thinking about how to keep them coming to school once classes get started in the fall.

In Michigan, local school districts set their own policies to address nonattendance. The most recent figures, for the 2021-2022 school year, show 38% of Michigan students were "chronically absent," meaning they missed at least 10% of school days. In Detroit, the figure was 75%.

Sarah Lenhoff, director of the Detroit Partnership for Education Equity and Research Center at Wayne State University, said helping families get their kids to school is key.

"Students who are chronically absent tend to have worse academic and socioemotional outcomes," Lenhoff explained. "Their test scores are lower, they're not learning as much over the course of the school year and their more affective outcomes are also worse."

Research from Wayne State finds poverty and lack of transportation, unsafe neighborhoods, and where schools are located all are factors making attendance more difficult. A University of Michigan study found replacing older school buses with models spewing fewer exhaust fumes would result in fewer daily absences.

Lack of attendance is an indicator something is wrong, in or out of school. The nonprofit group Attendance Works said schools are posting more data about absences, and more quickly, which helps to pinpoint trends.

Michigan also punishes low-income parents by reducing some of their public benefits when their children are not in school.

Lenhoff, who has tracked the issue since 2016, said socioeconomic conditions like housing and health are driving most chronic absenteeism.

"It's typically coming from these issues related, frankly to poverty, and all of the things that come with that, the challenges that come with that," Lenhoff emphasized. "It's this collection of challenges that sort of intersect with each other."

Attendance Works recommended schools look beyond the numbers when they tally absences, to take some of those family challenges into account and not be quite so fast to label kids as truant.

Disclosure: Wayne State University contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Education, Environment, and Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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