Education researchers receive nearly $850,000 to study absenteeism, student mobility and school choice in Detroit

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Sarah Lenhoff
Sarah Lenhoff

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies faculty members Sarah Lenhoff, Ben Pogodzinski and Erica Edwards received three grants totaling $848,500 for the Detroit Education Research Partnership, a collaboration with the College of Education, Detroit Public Schools Community District, and the Every School Day Counts Detroit coalition to produce research on key challenges facing Detroit schools: chronic absenteeism, student mobility, and school choice. The researchers received $400,000 from The Spencer Foundation, $398,500 from the Skillman Foundation and $50,000 from the Brightmoor Alliance to work collaboratively with community and school partners to identify the root causes of challenges in Detroit and inform education leaders as they generate solutions for improving public schools. 

Lenhoff, assistant professor and principal investigator, and Pogodzinski, associate professor and co-principal investigator, have co-authored five reports exploring why almost 25% of school-aged children in Detroit attend public schools elsewhere, why about one-fifth of Detroit students switch schools every year, and why more than half of Detroit students are chronically absent. To read the full reports, visit go.wayne.edu/DetEdResearch. Edwards, assistant professor and co-principal investigator, co-authored with Lenhoff a study to support the improvement of initiatives to reduce absenteeism in local schools.

Ben Pogodzinski
Ben Pogodzinski

“While schools are rightly focused on how they can best support individual students in getting to school, policymakers at the district, city, and state levels should consider how the structural inequalities in Detroit create barriers that make regular school attendance difficult for families,”  said Lenhoff. “Our research will support key stakeholders – including parents, students, school staff, community organizations, and policymakers – to understand how they can best address those barriers and systematically test solutions.” 

“Parents who want the best for their children often change schools to improve the environment, but such moves can negatively affect children’s academic and social growth, especially when observable school measures indicate the schools aren’t noticeably different,” said Pogodzinski. “Additionally, in the aggregate, high rates of student mobility can contribute to the destabilization of school systems. Although current efforts focus on helping parents make better-informed school choice decisions, policymakers should address the ways in which school choice negatively impacts the system overall, and school leaders should consider steps to mediate the potential negative impact of changing schools at the student level.”    

Erica Edwards
Erica Edwards

“The most exciting part of the Detroit Education Research Partnership’s work is how deeply committed it is to creating opportunities to both learn about and take action to reduce the problem of chronic absence in Detroit,” said Edwards. “We’re doing that by ensuring that students, families, and communities are deeply engaged and taking leadership roles in the work. We are truly committing to equity in our processes so that our policy recommendations and proposed interventions holistically support Detroit’s children.”

The partnership will engage stakeholders in a collaborative process to develop practice-relevant research questions, obtain feedback on the analytic approach and interpretation of data, and share findings with Detroit-based audiences. Researchers hope to gain new insight on how to address key education problems and help education leaders, community leaders, and policymakers guide educational improvement in Detroit. 

For more information about the Detroit Education Research Partnership, visit go.wayne.edu/DetEdResearch.