Tuesday, July 14, 2009

School Attendance in Urban Areas

Ingrid K.

Student absenteeism and truancy has been a problem affecting school districts across the country. DeKalb(1994) states that student truancy is one of the top ten major problems affecting schools. In supporting this DeKalb (1994) lets the statistics speak for themselves: New York City reports that roughly 15% of students are absent daily while Los Angeles reports this number to be 10%. Both percentages include both excused and unexcused absences. While student truancy affects a variety of communities, it has become particularly problematic in urban school districts especially those with students who come from lower socioeconomic communities. Research has focused on understanding the factors which contribute to frequent student absences, the affect this has on students, and solutions which may help to address this problem in urban communities.

The affects truancy and absenteeism has on students helps to illustrate the need to find research based solutions to this problem. As Wehlage and Rutter (1986) found, as cited in Rodriguez and Chochas (2009), “ truancy is the most common determinant of dropping out of school” (Rodriguez and Chochas, 2009, p. 219). Rodriguez and Chochas (2009) also argue that truancy and dropout rates, or what they term “school exclusion”, disproportionably affect “racially segregated central cities in primarily large high schools attended by mostly low-income youth of color” (Rodriguez and Chochas, 2009, p. 219). They cite that the dropout rate in urban areas is nearly twice the national average (Rodriguez and Chochas, 2009). Because of the strong correlation between student truancy and complete exclusion from the school environment, it is imperative that research is conducted on urban attendance with the aim of preventing truancy. Therefore, through preventing truancy, the graduation rates for urban school might be increased.

As stated above, research has indicated that high truancy and drop-out rates are especially prevalent in low income, urban communities. Studies have been conducted to understand this trend. Horowitz, McKay, and Marshall (2005) as cited in Steward et al (2008), found that both parents and children, in what they termed “at-risk communities”, exhibited much higher rates of stress. Roughly half of the children included in their study from communities with high poverty and safety issues, were found to meet the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder, while 20% of the children surveyed were found to meet the criteria for partial posttraumatic stress disorder (Steward et al, 2008, p.522). The schools within the communities in which this study was conducted were, like many other urban schools, plagued by student absenteeism, whether this was the result of suspension, truancy or excused absences. This helps to illustrate what might be a correlation between the factors impacting those living in lower income urban communities and the school attendance rates in those communities.

The research study Steward et al (2008) conducted, aimed to find a correlation between the various coping strategies students develop and exhibit as a result of living in at-risk communities and the way this manifests itself in school attendance. They conducted their study in an urban area with one of the highest crime rates in the country. The community also had a high level of poverty and unemployment. Steward et al (2008) found that the participants they studied were absent an average of 28 days during one academic year and had a mean GPA of 1.68 (scale of 4.0) (Steward et al, 2008, p. 526).

As illustrated in the data discussed above, Steward et al (2008) found a strong correlation between students’ academic performance and their attendance. As would be expected, students with low academic performance also exhibited low attendance. They discuss the variety of factors which might be influencing the relationship between academic performance and attendance. They hypothesize that one such reason may be that students are not attending because they do not understand the content; this is negative cycle as the more students do not attend the more they do not understand and vice versa. The data collected regarding this negative relationship between academic performance and attendance provides another convincing argument for addressing the problem of student attendance in urban communities.

In addressing this problem and finding a workable solution, it is important to understand the root of the problem itself. The correlation between various coping strategies exhibited by students and student attendance helps to shed light on one suggested solution. This solution as discussed by Steward et al (2008) and expanded on by Rodriguez and Conchas (2009), is that of expanded social support and community based action. Surprisingly, Steward et al (2008) found a negative correlation between student attendance and what they termed “social support”. As can be interpreted, students who therefore used “social support” as a coping strategy often had lower attendance rates. They explain that this might be because of the types of support these students are seeking out. Support from peers might lead to higher rates of truancy. They also found that even the use of the family as a social support network might have negative implications for students, as students may be required to put the needs of their family above their school attendance (Steward et al, 2008). Because of this, Steward et al (2008) feel that the in order to encourage a positive correlation between attendance and social support, the social support students receive must be strategic in that it has what they call “school affirming qualities” (Steward et al, 2008, p. 530). Students must therefore be receiving positive messages about school from their community and family.

Rodriguez and Conchas (2009) found that strategic, positive community involvement, in urban, “at risk” communities, can be helpful in encouraging students to attend school, stay in school, graduate and go onto higher education. Specifically they discuss how schools and families, as the study exhibits above, can not work alone in correcting the truancy and drop-out problem. The messages students receive from those outside the classroom, in the community, are also important and essential in doing this. Therefore, schools and the community or community based programs must form partnerships in encouraging students to stay in school. Specifically community based support programs, like one such program Rodriguez and Conchas (2009) cite in Atlanta, help to reduce truancy rates and enable students to re-engage in school. This Atlanta mentoring agency, which matches Atlanta professionals with at-risk youth, has been successful in reengaging 50% of students involved in the program back in school. Organizations such as this seek to create positive social and academic support networks for students. This helps to demonstrate what Steward et all (2008) discuss in relation to support networks; it is not just important that students have social support networks but that they have support networks that positively re-affirm the role of education and schooling in their lives.

As truancy and attendance problems are plaguing many school districts across the country, specifically those located in lower income urban communities, the research conducted on this problem is expansive. As illustrated through this discussion on student truancy, the negative affects of such on the lives and future lives of students demonstrates the imperativeness in finding and implementing solutions that work. Both studies discussed, demonstrate how schools and families might not be able to work alone in solving this problem. Teachers might involve the community by extending invitations to community professionals and community based organizations to come into the classroom and speak with students, partnering with them in the education of the community’s youth. Schools and teachers must encourage community agencies and professionals, who can have a positive impact on students, to become involved in supporting students’ education and academic future.


DeKalb, J., & ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management (1999, April 1). Student truancy. ERIC Digest, Number 125. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED429334) Retrieved July 12, 2009, from http://www.eric.ed.gov/

Rodriguez, L. & Conchas, G.Q. (2009). Preventing truancy and dropout among urban middle school youth: Understanding community-based action from the student’s perspective. Education and Urban Society. (41)2, 216-247. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ822811) Retrieved July 11, 2009, from http://www.eric.ed.gov/

Steward, R.J., Steward, A.D., Blair, J., Jo, H., Hill, M.F. (2008). School attendance revisited: A study of urban African American students’ grade point averages and coping strategies. Urban Education, (43)5, 519-536. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED471343) Retrieved July 10th, 2009, http://www.eric.ed.gov/

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