When the Normandy School District lost accreditation in St. Louis, Missouri students were given the option to transfer to the Francis Howell School District. This solution was only temporary, but parents who were unable to homeschool found themselves grateful to have a more affordable option than private school. Unfortunately, the commute was at least 30 minutes, and in the morning traffic could range much longer. Now a new study suggests that longer school bus rides are linked to chronic absenteeism.
While school choice is widely supported by about 72% of Americans, many parents do not consider the toll that travel time takes on students. Minority families who place their children in alternative schooling options are feeling the brunt of this the most. Temple University and Syracuse University researchers studied A new study finds that longer school bus rides are linked to higher rates of absenteeism among students in public schools. data ranging from 2011-2017. This recorded the patterns and learning behaviors of some 120,000 3rd-6th grade students in New York. This area was specifically chosen because it allows students to commute to the public school of their choice instead of a single location-based option.
The study found that while students’ progress was not hindered, they did miss school 12% more often than students with a shorter school bus ride. Chronic absenteeism is a major issue for school districts. This occurs when students miss 10% of school days. It can be disruptive to group projects, pull class progress behind, and cost schools masses of funding.
Chronic absenteeism has become such a problem across the nation that an organization has been formed to combat it. Attendance Works was created to encourage students to attend class and engage in lessons regularly. They recognize that attendance issues have more than doubled and are working to raise awareness in order to combat the problem. This new information regarding longer school bus rides and higher absenteeism may aid the organization, schools, and parents in reducing missed learning opportunities, but this depends on how the community works together.
The study also revealed that the students who were most likely to miss school due to long school bus rides were Black. Although Black students made up 27% of those who experience longer commutes each day, they made up 43% of those with longer transport time — ranging from 45-60 minutes — and 47% of students with bus rides that took over an hour. These numbers provide a clearer picture of which communities are the most affected.
In order to help students get to class every day, the key may be reducing school bus ride time, but that constrains families to enroll their children in schools closer to home. Whether educators are searching for helpful teaching tools that promote attendance is unknown. From bus tablets filled with learning games to Draw While You Go projects assigned for during the school bus rides, there are plenty of options that could be utilized to encourage engaging activities on the bus that make learning fun and pull children back to class.
For now, the data regarding school bus rides give a glimpse of why some students do not make it to school as often as others. Additional factors like family structure, income level, and transportation access have not been released. How schools and organizations like Attendance Works use the information remains to be seen.