A new Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis study examines a simple yet largely unexamined question: How does school transportation relate to student absences?
Author Michael Gottfried asks whether children who take the school bus to kindergarten have fewer absences, and if there are key differences by child and family characteristics. Apparently elementary school absenteeism is highest in kindergarten, though we don’t exactly know why. In fact, prior research has suggested that at least 25 percent of all kindergarteners miss about a month of school. We know that absences in general are linked to lower test scores, higher chances of grade retention, more difficulty with social development, and other negative outcomes.
The study uses data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class of 2010–11, which includes nationally representative cohort of children in public-school kindergarten in 2010–11. Data were collected in the fall and again in the spring of that year, mostly from surveys of teachers and parents and from direct assessments of students. The author deploys an array of control variables relating to the child (like race, gender, and whether the parent considered their child to be healthy), entry skills in kindergarten, kindergarten and pre-K experiences (such as distance from school and attendance at a before- or after-school child care) and household characteristics (such as whether the child lived in a two-parent household and maternal and paternal education).
Descriptive findings show that 24 percent of the sample took the school bus, while most got to school in other ways (cars, public transportation, walking, etc.). Turns out that the bus riders had fewer days absent and were also less likely to be chronically absent, defined as missing more than ten days. Specifically, school bus riders were 3 percentage points less likely to be chronically absent. When controlling for variation between districts, results were more tempered; specifically, bus riders had a 2 percentage point reduced likelihood of being chronically absent. Surprisingly, though, the author finds almost no differences in absenteeism by subgroup or other characteristics, including poverty level or distance to school. He chalks that up, in part, to the study’s descriptive design and its imprecise measure of distance.
The study takes on more significance as more states look to include chronic absenteeism in their ESSA accountability plans. We tend to think that’s a good idea. But beyond simply including it in their plans, states (and districts) might also now ask themselves: How many of our kids take the Big Cheese Wagon and does riding that wagon impact their attendance?
SOURCE: Michael Gottfried, “Linking Getting to School With Going to School,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (April 2017).