News Story

Detroit teachers have an attendance problem

40% of Detroit teachers were frequently or chronically absent last school year, according to the Detroit Public Schools Community District

The Detroit Public Schools Community District has an issue with attendance, and it’s not just students who miss class.

Detroit’s Superintendents Report from Oct. 11 reveals that teachers in Detroit have absenteeism issues. It placed the share of “Teachers with Excellent or Moderate Attendance” at 60.4% for the 2021-22 academic year. This is down from 83.8% in 2020-21. Pre-pandemic, the teacher rate was at 69.5% in 2018-19 and 82.6% in 2019-20.

Last school year, 40% of teachers in Detroit were frequently or chronically absent. Frequently absent means between 11 and 17 days absent, while chronically absent means 18 or more days absent, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, whose definitions are used in the superintendents report.

As for students, Detroit schools lagged the state, with an attendance rate of 75.6% for the 2021-22 school year. The state average, which dropped 4.1 percentage points from the previous year, was 88%. Detroit schools were at an 84% attendance rate pre-pandemic and the statewide average was 92.9%, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered schools to shut down from March 2020 through the end of the 2019-20 school year. While most school districts in the state reopened in fall 2020, some with options to attend in-person or online, Detroit teachers fought to keep their classrooms shut.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers threatened an illegal strike and demanded the schools stay shut to in-person learning until the district reached the last phase of Whitmer’s pandemic recovery plan. This phase would happen only when COVID-19 cases are near zero.

Online schooling was a struggle for Detroit students. At the start of the pandemic, 90% of students had no access to the internet or to electronic devices, according to The Washington Post.

If teachers’ demands had been met, Detroit schools still would not be back to in-person learning, according to Michael Van Beek, director of research at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“Attempting to eradicate an easily transmissible coronavirus was a fool’s errand that caused considerable suffering, perhaps most significantly for children,” Van Beek told Michigan Capitol Confidential.

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit schools, told CapCon in an email he expects student and teacher attendance will improve.

“Our district having lower student attendance than the state is not a new challenge,” Vitti wrote. “We know that concentrated poverty in the city as compared to the rest of the state can disrupt consistent student attendance. Prior to the pandemic, the district improved average daily attendance from 82% to 85% and reduced chronic absenteeism from 66% to 55%. The pandemic certainly disrupted our progress in this area due to the challenges associated with online learning, students contacting COVID, and quarantining rules that required close contacts to quarantine for 14-10 days last year. Despite these pandemic challenges, we demonstrated improvement in average daily attendance last year from 71% to 76%. With COVID management and the quarantining requirements behind us this school year, we will once again see improvement in average student daily attendance and chronic absenteeism. Last year was a difficult year for all teachers with the return of in person learning while still managing COVID. We know teacher attendance will improve this school year.”

Teachers in public schools nationally had almost three times the chronic absence rate as their charter school counterparts, according to a 2017 report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Public schools had a rate of 28.3%, compared to charter schools at 10.3%.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.