- As more metropolitan school districts cut back on student transportation to save money, a recent study focusing on Baltimore City Public Schools — an open enrollment district — shows that relying on public transportation to get to school is associated with increases in absenteeism.
- In a sample of 2,801 students who kept the same address as they moved from 8th grade to 9th grade —and used public transit to get to school — the Johns Hopkins University researchers find the average student missed 11.3 more days in high school than in the previous year. And each 10 minutes added to a student’s commute was associated with missing an additional third of a school day.
- The authors note that public transit systems were not designed to get students to schools that are often not located in business and commercial areas and that students and families should practice commutes — considering how many transfers are needed, for example — when making high school choices.
Little research on absenteeism, the researchers write, has “examined the association between how students get to school and whether they get to school.” But in Baltimore, the study says, 90% of high school students attend a school that is more than 1.5 miles from where they live, which qualifies them to receive a bus pass for the Maryland Transit Administration system. Other metropolitan areas, such as Chicago, New York, Denver and San Francisco, have also eliminated pupil transportation for some proportion of their student population, in part to save money but also because of the “logistical challenges” of school choice policies “that detach school enrollment from residential location,” the authors write.
They refer to the complex commutes that some students now take to get to school — which can be delayed by traffic, a vehicle breakdown, missed transfers and other unforeseen issues — as a “hidden cost of public school choice for students.” In addition, urban districts already serve students that are more likely to be chronically absent. With districts now learning more about the multiple reasons why students might miss school, searching for innovative strategies and being required to track the data under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the study is timely.
“Just as attendance interventions for well-established reasons (e.g., health issues) require specific strategies,” the researchers write, “interventions for less-recognized influences such as commuting difficulty will require novel approaches that may be quite different from existing strategies.”