Jennifer Erb-Downward and Payton Watt
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 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% 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 ten 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 are all 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 (CEPI) to explore chronic absenteeism and makes policy recommendations to ensure all of the state’s children make it to school.
CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM IS A STATEWIDE ISSUE AFFECTING THE EDUCATION OF MICHIGAN’S SCHOOL CHILDREN.
Roughly one out of every six children (16%) in Michigan was chronically absent in school year 2016-17, 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 disadvantaged9 students were chronically absent at three times the rate of their higher income peers (24% and 8% respectively).
DISPARITIES IN CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM IN MICHIGAN ARE ALSO 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 school year 2016-17, a rate two- and-a-half the state-wide average and eight percentage points higher than the next highest category reported (African American students).