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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