- Michigan has the sixth-highest rate of chronic absenteeism in the nation, with 15% of students missing at least 10% of school days. A new project funded by Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan found that housing instability is the largest predictor of chronic absenteeism, Chalkbeat reports.
- The Detroit Public Schools Community District, for instance, has a 56% chronic absenteeism rate for all students, while the rate of students considered technically homeless under federal law is 86%.
- While improving housing issues for families is a natural solution, the study also suggests that all Michigan school districts should opt in to the state’s data collection system, which automatically alerts educators when students are approaching chronic absenteeism levels. About two-thirds of the state's districts have signed up so far.
School programs can't be effective if students are not in school to benefit from them. Chronic absenteeism is reaching epidemic proportions in many school districts across the nation. In fact, a recent report showed that roughly one-fifth of the nation’s eighth-graders were chronically absent in 2015. The issue is gaining more attention as new ESSA guidelines are forcing schools to take a closer look at the numbers.
A number of factors contribute to chronic absenteeism rates. Housing instability, which is often rooted in poverty, is high on the list of causes. Health issues, including the physical and mental health of students and parents, also plays a role, especially as issues such as the opioid crisis take a toll. However, addressing chronic absenteeism is often one of the most proactive steps schools can take to improve educational outcomes and increase funding lost through missing students.
Schools cannot be expected to single-handedly solve these major societal issues. However, school leaders can make their voices heard as these issues are addressed, because many are not aware of the link between these larger problems and school performance. Schools can also advocate for more interventions for these students in the form of coaches and coordinators to help students navigate the maze of services available and to help keep them on track with school attendance. Some schools are also using other strategies to provide more direct help for homeless students.
Schools can partner with local and national partners in this effort. Organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Salvation Army and other local organizations are often eager to work with districts to help craft local solutions to chronic absenteeism. National campaigns such as Every Day Matters and Missing School Matters can also help provide some ideas for strategies.