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Chronic Absenteeism in the School-Prison Nexus
This qualitative case study examines how attendance management practices are designed and implemented in a large urban school district and explores the empirical and conceptual relationship between student behavior and attendance management within the “school-prison nexus.” We use interviews with parents, high school students, and staff charged with reducing chronic absenteeism to demonstrate how managing students’ attendance through intervention plans, student monitoring, and threats of legal action have implicit and explicit parallels to the management of student behavior in schools and could be considered a potential mechanism through which the school-prison nexus functions. We conclude with implications for schools and districts as they seek ways to reduce chronic absenteeism without contributing to the over-surveillance and punishment of high school youth.
Gaps in Identification and Support for Students Experiencing Homelessness and Housing Instability in Detroit
Homelessness and housing instability can have significant negative effects on students’ academic and behavioral outcomes. Schools that endeavor to support students who are experiencing housing instability can only do so if they accurately identify students facing these challenges. This mixed-methods study provides deep, contextualized data on the experiences of housing unstable youth and families in Detroit traditional public and charter schools, whether and how they are identified as housing unstable by their districts, and what schools are doing to support them. We find that 16% of Detroit students were housing unstable in 2021-22, but Detroit schools only identified 4% of students as homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act. Our qualitative data suggest that this undercount is predominantly related to parents’ feelings of stigma and shame associated with discussing their situation with their schools and in some cases a lack of follow-through when parents do divulge their housing issue. Housing unstable students who were not identified by their districts as such were more likely to have been suspended; identification was not associated with attendance or student mobility, compared to other housing unstable students.
School Transportation Mode and Student Attendance Across Schools of Choice
The availability and reliability of school transportation is essential for regular student attendance at school. Yet, school transportation resources are stretched for both families and school districts in cities with widespread school choice, where students’ residences do not determine where they enroll in school. This study provides some of the first evidence on how Detroit students get to school. Going beyond eligibility for the school bus, we use linked survey and administrative data to determine how students get to school, the student and school characteristics associated with riding the school bus, and how mode of transit is associated with attendance.
Beyond the Bus: Reconceptualizing School Transportation for Mobility Justice
This essay combines an ecological perspective with a mobility justice theoretical framework to reconceptualize the relationship between school transportation and educational access. Authors Sarah Winchell Lenhoff, Jeremy Singer, Kimberly Stokes, James Bear Mahowald, and Sahar Khawaja document the problem of “getting to school ”that is at the intersection of students’ family, community, and social contexts and how it goes beyond whether there is a reliable mode of physical transportation. Bringing together a historical analysis of the policy landscapeand interview data from parents and students in Detroit, they find that school transportation problems reflect the unequal political, social, and economic context in which families navigate enrollment and attendance. They discuss how policymakers can advance mobility justice in school policy by equitably distributing transportation resources, engaging students and parents as experts in developing and communicating transportation policy, and using institutional power to remedy structural barriers to educational access.
School Transit and Accessing Public School in Detroit
Students in the Detroit Public Community Schools District (DPSCD) have the highest rate of chronic absence (missing 10% or more of school days) among large districts in the United States. Additionally, students in DPSCD are among the poorest students in the country, often lacking access to reliable personal transportation or public transit to facilitate getting to school. Although DPSCD offers school-sponsored transit, only 30% of K-8 students were eligible for such transit in 2018-19. Through the use of multilevel modeling, we sought to identify the association between eligibility for school-sponsored transit and attendance. Our findings indicated that there was a negative association of small magnitude between eligibility for school sponsored transit and school attendance. This counterintuitive finding may highlight the fact that transit eligibility is not sufficient to mediate the negative relationship between student poverty and attendance, and transit eligibility does not guarantee regular use of school-sponsored transit.
Promoting Ecological Approaches to Educational Issues: Evidence from a Partnership around Chronic Absenteeism in Detroit
Many problems that we conceptualize as “educational” have multiple causes that cut across students’ ecosystems. Yet, most education reforms are targeted narrowly at schools, educators, and students. Supporting educators and community leaders in conceptualizing educational problems from an ecological perspective and designing policies in alignment with that conceptualization is critical to improving student outcomes. This study documented the macro-, meso-, and micro-level institutional conditions that shaped how educators and community leaders conceived of the problem of absenteeism in response to research framed ecologically. Our findings highlight the challenges researchers may have in influencing ecosystemic policy solutions, but they also provide insight into potential pathways for doing so through research partnerships.
Detroit Families’ Experiences with COVID-19 and School Attendance
How much school students attend is a powerful indicator of their wellbeing and a strong predictor of their future success in school. During the first full school year of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-21), most Detroit students attended school online and many experienced significant challenges at home and school. This research report summarizes the key findings from a representative survey of Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) families at the end of that school year. By linking survey responses to students’ attendance records, we were able to identify how experiences during the pandemic and socioeconomic circumstances in general shaped attendance during this critical school year.
Third Grade Reading and Attendance in Detroit
Potential student retention under the Read by Grade Three Law is a critically important issue to better understand and address in Detroit. Detroit students have historically been retained at much higher rates than their suburban peers. Nearly 15% of Detroit third graders would have been subject to retention under the Third Grade Reading law had it been in effect in previous years. There is a significant relationship between third grade reading scores and chronic absenteeism.
Why do Detroit Students Miss School? Implications for Returning to School
This report documents the reasons why Detroit students miss school, based on interviews with parents and high school students in 2020. Transportation was by far the most frequent and pervasive barrier to attendance that we heard from families. Yet, issues with getting to school were more complex than immediate access to transportation. They emerged from a combination of unreliable or inconsistent availability of transportation, weak social networks, parents’ work schedules, unsafe conditions, and more. Health issues, acute and chronic physical health issues in particular, but also mental health and parent health issues, created barriers to attendance. Parents expressed a strong understanding that missing school jeopardized students’ learning, and they went to great lengths to get their children to school. Parents also weighed serious trade-offs between attendance, safety, health, and family income, reflecting the unjust conditions they face.
Advancing an Ecological Approach to Chronic Absenteeism: Evidence from Detroit
Drawing on ecological systems theory to study chronic absenteeism, the authors identify the association between student, neighborhood, and school factors and chronic absenteeism in Detroit, as well as between macro-level structural and environmental conditions and city-wide chronic absenteeism rates in large U.S. cities. The authors’ findings suggest the need for coordinated, ecosystemic policy interventions that address structural and environmental barriers to attendance along with school-based efforts that more immediately support students and their families.
A Collaborative Problem-Solving Approach to Improving District Attendance Policy
Collaborative problem-solving research approacheshave the potential to support improvement in educational policy and practice beyond instruction, by facilitating the development of a shared understanding of complex problems and creating social structures where district, community, and research partners can work together to solve them. This study investigates how findings from a developmental evaluation of a district attendance initiative were incorporated into the initiation process of a networked improvement community to create a shared narrative about how members conceptualized the problem of absenteeism and how they should adapt their levers to better align to that problem. The developmental learning process created an infrastructure within which district leaders and community partners could develop a partnership culture that facilitated change in policy. This study suggests the need to revisit the assumptions that have driven non-instructional improvement efforts and highlights the potential of collaborative problem-solving to strengthen the implementation of district reforms.
Attendance Throughout the Seasons in the Detroit Schools Community District
This study examines how changes in the seasons relate to student absenteeism in Detroit. The probability that a student will miss school was lowest in the Fall, higher in Winter and Spring, and the highest in Summer (June), with exceptionally high rates of absence in the last two weeks of school. Nearly 4,000 DPSCD students (about 7%) reached the threshold for chronic absence in the last two weeks of the school year. Heavy precipitation in the Winter was associated with a 5% increase in the probability that a student would be absent, but the effect of precipitation in the Fall and Spring was minimal. Weather had a stronger affect on chronically absent students than non-chronically absent students.
Detroit’s Uniquely Challenging Context for Student Attendance
Nationwide, long-term population change, asthma rates, poverty and unemployment rates, residential vacancy rates, violent crime rates, average monthly temperature, and racial segregation for a city’s greater metropolitan area are all significantly correlated with city-wide rates of chronic absenteeism. Detroit has the highest chronic absenteeism rate in the country (about 50%), and it has a uniquely challenging context for student attendance. Among cities with 500,000 or more residents, Detroit has the highest adult asthma rate (14%), unemployment rate (about 20%), poverty rate (about 38%), violent crime rate (about 20 per 1,000 people), and residential vacancy rate (27%). In addition, it has the greatest population loss since 1970 (about 50% decline), one of the lowest average monthly temperatures (about 49° F), and is among the most segregated major metropolitan areas in the country.
Geography, School Type, and High Student Attendance in Detroit
Detroit’s high attenders missed an average of just 2 days a year and performed significantly better on ELA and math standardized tests than non-high attenders, even those missing an average of 9 days a year. Nearly 70% of Detroit’s high attenders were enrolled in “high attendance schools,” or the top third of schools by attendance rate. Just 8% of high attenders were enrolled in “low attendance schools.” Most of Detroit’s high attenders were enrolled in “commuter” charter schools downtown and in the Detroit Public Schools Community District’s application- or exam-based schools, traveling farther on average than non-high attenders to enroll in school.
Student Exit, Mobility, and Attendance in Detroit
This comprehensive report documents Detroit students' school choices, attendance, and mobility as of 2017-18. Nearly a quarter of Detroit students attended a public school in the suburbs in 2017-18. Most had previously attended school in Detroit. Students were more likely to have attended school outside the city when they had fewer city schools near where they lived, raising important policy questions about school locations, closures, and access. Seventeen percent of Detroit students switched schools between school years when they were not in a transition year. Early elementary school and 9th grade students were most likely to be movers, and more than half of all non-routine moves were among students who did not change residence, suggesting that dissatisfaction, disciplinary pushout, or other school-level issues may be contributing to mobility. More than half of students who attended school in Detroit were chronically absent, missing 10% or more of the school year. Controlling for individual student characteristics, students were more likely to be chronically absent if they attended a school with high rates of student mobility, were new to the school, commuted further to get to school, and when they lived in neighborhoods with higher asthma rates.