New Study Finds Housing Instability is the Greatest Predictor of Students’ Chronic Absenteeism from School

Researchers at Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan released in November a new study, Missing School, Missing Home: the Link between Chronic Absenteeism, Economic Instability, and Homelessness in Michigan, finding that housing instability is by far the greatest predictor of students’ chronic absenteeism from school. The report’s conclusions are another demonstration of the strong linkages between housing policy and education policy, as is emphasized by the Opportunity Starts at Home multi-sector affordable housing campaign.

The researchers found that:

  • Income, race, and disability status are all associated with higher chronic absenteeism. Economically disadvantaged students were chronically absent at three times the rate of their higher-income peers (24% and 8%, respectively); 32% of African American students were chronically absent; and 24% of students with disabilities were chronically absent.
  • Homeless students have the highest rate of chronic absenteeism of any group. Forty percent of homeless students were chronically absent, two-and-a-half times higher than the statewide average and eight percentage points higher than African American students.

Michigan has the country’s sixth highest rate of student chronic absenteeism; roughly one out of six children (16%) in Michigan miss 10% or more of school days each year. The study’s authors point out that students who are chronically absent are less likely to meet grade-level standards and more likely to drop out of school. Third-grade students who were not chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade were 3.5 times more likely to be reading on grade level. Michigan law mandates the retention of students who are a grade or more behind in reading. 

The study recommends strategies that school districts can implement to improve school attendance, like the adoption of a data system that provides an early warning to educators when a student’s absences reach a certain threshold. It is clear, however, that to address the root cause of the problem, greater investments in affordable housing are needed to combat housing instability and ensure stable, affordable homes for vulnerable families.  

“If Michigan is to achieve its goal of becoming a top-ten education state in the next decade, addressing its high rates of chronic absenteeism will be critical,” writes the study’s authors. “Unless Michigan addresses the impacts of economic and housing insecurity on attendance, it will not see significant improvement in academic outcomes.”

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