- Inspired by the sight of church vans picking up members who face obstacles getting to church, Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has asked the school district to purchase about 12 vans to pick up students who did not make it to school, the Detroit Free Press reported in an article originally published by Chalkbeat. The district has approved $200,000 to purchase six vans to use as part of a pilot to test the effectiveness of the idea,
- The vans will be used as a part of an overall strategy to confront an overwhelming chronic absenteeism issue in the district, where 70% of students are missing at least 10% of the school year. This year, the school district spent $9 million in attendance strategies, which include installing attendance agents at almost every school to track attendance data and follow up with families whose children are missing school, sometimes even transporting students to school themselves when parents are overwhelmed and don't send children to school.
- Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, feels the idea has merit since transportation is a big factor in attendance issues. Research indicates that students who ride school buses miss fewer days than students who do not and that students who walk through unsafe neighborhoods are less likely to attend school.
Chronic absenteeism is a major challenge for many school districts across the nation and is drawing increased attention because under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), districts are required to track it. In addition, many states are using chronic absenteeism as an accountability indicator in their state ESSA plans. Students who are not in school are less likely to learn and when chronic absenteeism affects a large percentage of students, the learning process for all students is likely to slow down. Chronic absenteeism is also often a symptom of bigger problems within a school or school district such as a negative school culture.
The roots of chronic absenteeism often lie in societal or home-life issues that are hard to address. Students who live in poor communities or must walk in unsafe neighborhoods are more likely to be absent. Housing instability is another factor affecting whether students attend school consistently, and opioid addiction and other substance abuse issues can affect student attendance.
Schools are increasingly using innovative strategies to improve attendance rates at schools. Finding better solutions to transportation issues is just one approach. Forming attendance teams or hiring attendance agents to focus on the reasons for absenteeism and help families solve these issues is another approach.
Some schools are enlisting the help of businesses and nonprofit organizations to help encourage better attendance. Others are working with organizations such as Attendance Works and Communities In Schools to find solutions. The community school model is also finding growing support because it offers students and families a way to access services that can address the issues affecting school attendance. The solutions to the problem of absenteeism vary, but the first step, school leaders are finding, is accurately tracking attendance data and searching for the root causes of absenteeism.