News Story

Seven in 10 Detroit Students ‘Chronically Absent’

Statewide, the number is two in 10

More than seven in 10 students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District were chronically absent in 2017-2018, meaning they missed 10 percent or more of the year’s class days, according to state data.

Of 54,575 students enrolled in Detroit Public Schools for at least 10 school days, 38,383, or 70.3 percent, were chronically absent. The state average for chronically absent students was 19.9 percent in 2017-18. Flint Community Schools had 52.0 percent of its students categorized that way, while Benton Harbor Area Schools was at 63.3 percent.

There are typically 180 days in a school year, so a chronically absent student enrolled for the full year is missing 18 days or more.

“There are many, many reasons for a student’s absence at school: illness, medical appointments, family emergencies, lack of parent support in making school a priority, a perceived lack of relevance in what the student is learning, bullying, other family issues, just to name a few,” Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, said in an email.

“Every student’s situation is unique and so is their reason for missing school,” he said.

Tom McMillin, a Republican who serves on the State Board of Education, echoed that sentiment. In a phone interview, McMillin called the numbers alarming. But, he said, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, which is why he has called for a decentralized approach that allows individual schools to address their unique problems.

In some schools in Detroit, McMillin said, the chronic absence rate can surpass 90 percent, and some of this can be caused by poverty, a destabilized family or lack of access to transportation to school. He also said that Common Core educational standards, which have been implemented in the state, have made it hard for teachers to connect directly with students.

Detroit schools also see relatively high turnover in teachers, he said, because many of them move to suburban districts, which can offer better money and safer conditions.

McMillin and Wigent said the issue is difficult to resolve legislatively because each case is unique to an individual student.

“Treating each case individually is of extreme importance,” Wigent said. “However, with the average counselor-to-student ratio currently being approximately 750-1, it is extremely difficult (if not close to impossible) to find out why each individual student who has chronic absenteeism is not attending.”

Staffers within each school should do whatever they can to identify those students and determine why the student is missing and what can be done to mitigate the problem, Wigent said. He added that staffers should proceed with the full understanding that some things are out of the school’s control.

“For this and many other reasons, schools need to continue to work with health and human service agencies and other agencies that provide wraparound services for students and their families,” he said.