Two-Thirds of Detroit Students 'Chronically Absent'

New attendance policy has little impact in first year

Detroit King High School had 68.6 percent of its students defined as "chronically absent" in 2013-14 by the state. "Chronically absent" means missing more than 10 days in a school year.

Despite a new attendance policy that could see truant students and their parents actually prosecuted in court, more than two-thirds of the students enrolled in the Detroit school district are still classified as “chronically absent.” This is defined by the state as missing more than 10 school days in a year.

Detroit saw 67.1 percent of its students deemed chronically absent in 2013-14, the latest year data is available. The statewide average is 25.5 percent. Even the troubled Education Achievement Authority, the state office given oversight of Michigan’s worst-performing individual schools, experienced chronic absence in just 23.7 percent of its students.

Other troubled school districts also struggle with student absence. In Benton Harbor, 58.9 percent of students met the chronic absence criteria. The figure was 52.7 percent in Flint and 49.9 percent in the Pontiac school district.

Detroit's students could be missing far more than 10 days of school as the state report doesn't quantify the total amount of missed school days. In 2013, Keith Johnson, who was then president of the Detroit teachers union, said data showed the average high school student in Detroit Public Schools missed 46 days of schools in 2011-12.

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“Kids are not showing up,” said Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project. “It’s very difficult to learn if you are not in the classroom.”

The new Detroit Public Schools truancy policy calls for possible home visits by state agency workers when a student has six unexcused absences. After nine unexcused absences, students and their parents can be charged by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

The new program was launched in the 2013-14 school year but doesn’t appear to have had much impact so far. In the year before that, 67.5 percent of DPS students were classified as chronically absent.

John Rakolta, a co-chair of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, believes a multipronged approach is needed. "The state controls Detroit Public Schools, so nothing about this is easy," he said. “The DPS attendance issue is heartbreaking, and it is something that charters are dealing with too.”

Rakolta continued, "This is exactly why we need the governor, the mayor, and pragmatic lawmakers in both parties to come together to find a solution that gives all kids a fair shot. The fix is complicated. It likely involves comprehensive transportation, dealing with aggressive suspension and expulsion rates, addressing health and safety issues, and helping parents be a part of the solution. It’s on all of us to get this right and get kids back into quality schools in Michigan’s biggest city."

DPS and Wayne County Prosecutor Office officials didn’t respond to emails and voice messages seeking comment.

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See also:

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