Michigan students among nation’s most chronically absent, homeless students at particular risk

December 6, 2018

Contact: Kristen Kerecman, 734-604-2891, kristker@umich.edu, Jared Wadley, 734-936-7819, jwadley@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—Attendance is vital to academic success, studies show, but many children in Michigan are not making it to school.

According to a University of Michigan analysis, close to one out of every six children enrolled in the state’s public and charter schools were chronically absent in school year 2016-17, missing 10 percent or more school days.

“These rates are cause for alarm,” said Jennifer-Erb Downward, senior researcher at U-M’s Poverty Solutions. “We know chronically absent students are less likely to meet grade-level proficiency standards and are more likely to dropout.

“If we are going to improve our state’s education system, we need to figure out how to help kids get to school. The data show that to do that we have to address the impact of homelessness and poverty.”

Key findings include:

  • Chronic absenteeism is a statewide issue: all regions had districts with chronic absenteeism rates of 25 percent or more.
  • Economically disadvantaged students were chronically absent at a rate three times greater than their higher income peers.
  • Close to one-third of African-American students were chronically absent.
  • Homeless students had the highest chronic absenteeism rate in the state at 40 percent—two-and-a-half times greater than the statewide average of 16 percent.

To increase understanding locally about chronic absenteeism, U-M also released a map by school district to illustrate how many children are missing 10 percent or more of the school year. The map shows chronic absenteeism rates for students experiencing homelessness as well as those for low-income and higher-income students.

Poverty Solutions—a U-M initiative dedicated to the prevention and alleviation of poverty—developed the map to help policymakers and local stakeholders think about the causes and consequences of chronic absenteeism in their area and to identify policy solutions that could support better academic outcomes for students.

Economically disadvantaged and homeless students together account for close to half of all students in Michigan and make up 75 percent of all students chronically absent in the state. While the data show that this issue impacts all children, it also indicates the greater risk that economically disadvantaged and homeless students face—and addressing this is key to the development of effective attendance policies and programs.

“Chronic absenteeism must be reduced in order to make long-term improvements in reading and math proficiency and graduation in Michigan,” Erb-Downward said. “Unless Michigan addresses the impacts of economic and housing insecurity on attendance, it will not see significant improvement in academic outcomes.”

Recommendations to improve chronic absenteeism include:

  • Schools opting in to MiDataHub, a statewide initiative to improve the management and usability of school data.
  • Adopting real-time attendance tracking tools at schools statewide.
  • Using available data to identify and prioritize school districts with the greatest need.
  • Ensuring that attendance programs and policies meet the needs of all students, including those experiencing housing and economic instability.

Absenteeism Map
Policy Brief (PDF)