By Roz Edward
After the returning to the classroom for the first full regular school year since the pandemic struck in 2019, DPSCDC school officials are finding that in school absenteeism rates rival those of online attendance which was alarmingly low in January of this year. School superintendent Nikolai Vitti presented attendance data to the DPSCD Board of directors indicating that in January of 2022 only 58 percent of virtual learners attended online classes. Attendance improved slightly, with only 62 and 70 percent of students showing up for online classes on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
More alarmingly, recent attendance data for DPSCD in the 2022 school year indicates that two-thirds of Detroit students missed at least one of every 10 school days last year, essentially one day every two weeks. The dismal statistics for in school and online class attendance makes Detroit public school absenteeism rates the worst in the nation.
Chronic absenteeism (missing two or more days per month) leads to disastrous results including students being less likely to read at grade level, to stay out of trouble, to graduate high school, and severely decreases a student’s prospects of success in life. Effected students are then tasked with trying to catch up or keep up academically while receiving reduced or compromised classroom education.
The absenteeism issue is further complicated as those who are chronically absent are more likely to hail from challenging home environments and experience higher levels of poverty and dysfunction in family life.
“School is hard enough, but then when you have to catch up, it’s overwhelming, and they just give up,” Janine Scott, a math teacher in the Detroit Public Schools Community District explained in an earlier interview. The concerned educator also serves on Chalkbeat’s reader advisory board.
Chalkbeat is a non-profit news organization that covers education in several American communities. Its mission is to “inform the decisions and actions that lead to better outcomes for children and families by providing deep, local coverage of education policy and practice.” It aims to cover “the effort to improve schools for all children, especially those who have historically lacked access to a quality education”.
“We can’t see it just as a schools issue,” said Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, a national initiative that aims to reduce chronic absenteeism. “Some of what chronic absence reflects is economic inequities in our societies, lack of access to health care, flexibility in work, lack of access to decent transportation.”
Even local charter schools are struggling with the problem of getting students to attend classes regularly with Detroit charter schools reporting a chronic absenteeism rate of 58 percent. In the Lansing school district that rate rose to 90 percent, while Flint and Pontiac school districts report chronic absenteeism rates of 80 percent and 72 percent respectively.
“Chronic absenteeism is now the big elephant in every room,” Sonya Mays, a Detroit school board member, said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press.
“I’m not super interested in a blame conversation,” she said. “I’m much more interested in unpacking the reasons that that number is so high and using data as much as we can. I do think that there still is a bit more anecdotal decision making than I would care for, not just in our district but broadly in all school districts.”
Every School Day Counts Detroit, a local initiative dedicated to increased awareness of chronic absence and the effects on academic outcomes as well as personal development for students is addressing the problem and working with parents and students to improve classroom attendance by providing wrap around services and resources as well as technical assistance to establish a welcoming school environment that promotes student attendance and academic success.
“I encourage parents and districts to work together to focus on student attendance so that they can make the best use of the time that is available to them for student instruction,” urged state Superintendent Michael Rice in a recently released statement.