Chronic Absenteeism of Homeless Children in Michigan

Policy Brief: Missing School, Missing A Home: The Link Between Chronic Absenteeism, Economic Instability And Homelessness In Michigan (Adobe PDF)

By Jennifer Erb-Downward and Payton Watt

INTRODUCTION
Attendance is vital to academic success but many children in Michigan are not making it to school. Based on recent estimates, Michigan has the sixth highest statewide chronic absenteeism rate in the country. Close to 1-in-6 children enrolled in the state’s public and charter schools were chronically absent in the 2016-17 school year, missing 10% or more of school days. This is cause for alarm for Michigan policymakers, educators, and families. Chronically absent students are less likely to meet grade level proficiency standards and are more likely to dropout of school than their peers, with impacts seen as early as preschool. These effects can be lasting. Among third grade students, those who were not chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade were three-and-a-half times more likely to read on grade level than their peers who were chronically absent both years (64% vs. 17%, respectively). The passage of Michigan’s third-grade reading law, which mandates retention of students who are a grade or more behind in reading, makes these statistics even more pressing. If Michigan is to achieve its goal of becoming a top 10 education state in the next decade, addressing its high rates of chronic absenteeism will be critical.

Efforts to reduce school absences can be strengthened by understanding the characteristics of students most at risk. Race, income, and disability status all are associated with elevated rates of chronic absenteeism, but one group stands out in particular: homeless students. Data shows homelessness is a statewide issue affecting rural, suburban, and urban communities alike, which indicates the need for a greater focus on the educational impact of housing instability in Michigan. This brief uses data from the Center for Educational Performance and Information to explore chronic absenteeism and makes policy recommendations to ensure all of the state’s children make it to school.

KEY FINDINGS

CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM IS A STATEWIDE ISSUE AFFECTING THE EDUCATION OF MICHIGAN’S SCHOOL CHILDREN.
Roughly 1-in-6 children (16%) in Michigan was chronically absent in the 2016-17 school year, and all regions of the state had districts with chronic absenteeism rates of 25% or more.

STUDENTS STRUGGLING WITH ECONOMIC INSTABILITY ARE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE CHRONICALLY ABSENT FROM SCHOOL THAN THEIR HIGHER INCOME PEERS.
Economically disadvantaged students were chronically absent at three times the rate of their higher income peers (24% and 8%, respectively).

DISPARITIES IN CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM IN MICHIGAN ALSO ARE PROMINENT BASED ON RACE AND DISABILITY STATUS.
Close to one-third (32%) of African American students were chronically absent. Likewise, students with disabilities also faced significant challenges; roughly one-quarter (24%) were chronically absent from school.

HOMELESS STUDENTS HAVE THE HIGHEST CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM RATE OF ANY GROUP IN MICHIGAN FOR WHICH DATA IS AVAILABLE.

Forty percent of homeless students were chronically absent in the 2016-17 school year, a rate two-and-a-half times the statewide average and 8 percentage points higher than the next highest category reported (African American students).

Policy Brief: Missing School, Missing A Home: The Link Between Chronic Absenteeism, Economic Instability And Homelessness In Michigan (Adobe PDF)

Contact: Jennifer Erb-Downward, Senior Research Associate
Phone: 734-764-5435 | Email: jerbdown@umich.edu.