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Identifying the Determinants of Chronic Absenteeism: A Bioecological Systems Approach


by Michael A. Gottfried & Kevin A. Gee — 2017

Background/Context: Chronic school absenteeism is a pervasive problem across the US; in early education, it is most rampant in kindergarten and its consequences are particularly detrimental, often leading to poorer academic, behavioral and developmental outcomes later in life. Though prior empirical research has identified a broad range of determinants of chronic absenteeism, there lacks a single, unified theoretically driven investigation examining how such factors concurrently explain the incidence of chronic absenteeism among our nation’s youngest schoolchildren. Thus, it is difficult to determine the relative importance of one factor over another, hence making it challenging to develop appropriate supports and services to reduce school absences.

Purpose/Research Questions: Our study filled this critical void—we investigated multiple determinants of chronic absenteeism that were grounded, theoretically and empirically, in Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model of development. Specifically, using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) and the method of hierarchical generalized linear modeling (HGLM), we analyzed how the co-occurrence of key (1) process, (2) person, and (3) context (micro-, meso-, exo- and macrosystem) factors was associated with kindergarteners’ probability of being chronically absent.

Findings/Results: Children who have poorer health, higher internalizing behaviors, and more frequent engagement in learning activities at home had higher odds of chronic absenteeism. Also, children from larger families and of lower socioeconomic status faced increased odds of chronic absenteeism. Conversely, children holding positive attitudes towards school had lowered odds of chronic absenteeism, a finding that remained robust across socioeconomic status groups. Finally, parent–school connections were associated with lowered odds of absenteeism.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Overall, our findings strongly suggested that addressing chronic absenteeism will require comprehensive and multifaceted approaches that recognize these multiple factors. With this theoretically grounded, more descriptive approach, it is more feasible to identify key factors and subsequently design policies and practices to prevent absence behavior.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 7, 2017, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21802, Date Accessed: 3/22/2017 8:22:06 PM

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About the Author
  • Michael Gottfried
    University of California Santa Barbara
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL A. GOTTFRIED is an associate professor in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California Santa Barbara. His research interests are grounded in educational policy and the economics of education. He has focused extensively on issues pertaining to truancy and absenteeism. Recent articles pertaining to this area include: “Chronic Absenteeism in the Classroom Context” (Urban Education, in press); “Can Center-Based Childcare Reduce the Odds of Early Chronic Absenteeism?” (Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2015).
  • Kevin Gee
    University of California, Davis
    E-mail Author
    KEVIN A. GEE is assistant professor of education in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis and researches the impact of school-based health policies and programs on children's outcomes. He also investigates how school policies and programs can help promote the well-being and educational outcomes of children who face a broad array of adverse conditions and experiences including school bullying, food insecurity, and abuse and neglect. Dr. Gee specializes in the use of applied quantitative methods in evaluation including quasiexperimental methods and multilevel modeling. In his recent Journal of Adolescent Health article, “School-Based Body Mass Index Screening and Parental Notification in Late Adolescence: Evidence from Arkansas’s Act 1220,” he examines the effectiveness of a school-based body mass index (BMI) screening and parental notification policy on adolescent obesity.
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