School Climate & Safety News in Brief

Safe Commute = Better Attendance

By Sarah D. Sparks — February 26, 2019 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Students whose school commutes force them to walk through or wait in violent neighborhoods are more likely to miss school, finds a new study.

Like many large districts, Baltimore has been struggling with both chronic absenteeism and student-transportation problems for years, complicated by its open school enrollment. While elementary students are bused by the district, middle and high schoolers receive vouchers for public transportation, and prior studies have found longer commutes are associated with higher absenteeism. But a new study in the journal Sociological Science suggests commute safety, not just total time, plays a role in whether students get to school.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, mapped the most efficient routes to and from school for 4,200 first-time 9th graders in Baltimore public schools in 2014-15. Then they overlaid police data on the numbers of violent crimes—such as assaults, robberies, and murders—as well as nonviolent crimes—like drug sales and property damage.

Only 8 percent of students lived within walking distance of their schools. Nearly 70 percent of students used public transportation to get to school, traveling a little more than a half hour on average each way. But a significant portion of students traveled an hour or more, with multiple transfers in which students had to wait or walk to a different stop to catch the new bus. Several major transit hubs for students also had high rates of violent crime.

The researchers found that as violent crime increased in areas where students walked or waited for a bus, their attendance dropped. A doubling of the incidents of violent crime was associated with 6 percent higher student absenteeism—roughly an additional day missed for each student per year.

Julia Burdick-Will, the lead author of the study, noted that because the number of individual crimes is relatively low at any given bus stop, it’s not that hard for students to face a sudden doubling of violent incidents during the school year.

“I’ve taken the bus a lot in Baltimore—I take it to work every day—and there are particular issues around bus stops,” Burdick-Will said. “If an altercation between two people escalates quickly, there’s nowhere to go. ... It feels physically scary, because ... there’s an unpredictability to it.”

Students were not more likely to miss school if their commute passed through a violent area but they did not get off the bus, or if they had to wait in an area with high drug or property crime but not violent crime. Moreover, the effect of violent crime on attendance was the same regardless of how safe the student’s own neighborhood was, or whether the student was attending his first choice of school.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2019 edition of Education Week as Safe Commute = Better Attendance

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Explainer: Why Was Michigan Suspect Charged With Terrorism?
He also was charged with first-degree murder, assault with intent to commit murder and gun crimes in Tuesday's attack at Oxford High School.
3 min read
Parents walk away with their kids from the Meijer's parking lot in Oxford where many students gathered following an active shooter situation at Oxford High School, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in Oxford, Mich. Police took a suspected shooter into custody and there were multiple victims, the Oakland County Sheriff's office said.
Parents walk away with their kids from the Meijer's parking lot in Oxford where many students gathered following an active shooter situation at Oxford High School, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in Oxford, Mich. Police took a suspected shooter into custody and there were multiple victims, the Oakland County Sheriff's office said.
Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press via AP
School Climate & Safety What This Week's Mass Shooting Can Teach Us About School Safety
The incident in Michigan, the deadliest school shooting in three years, will add to a wrenching school safety debate.
7 min read
A well wisher kneels to pray at a memorial on the sign of Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich., Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. A 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at the school, killing several students and wounding multiple other people, including a teacher.
A mourner kneels at a memorial in Oxford, Mich., site of the deadliest school shooting since 2018.
Paul Sancya/AP
School Climate & Safety Mich. Student Kills 4 in Deadliest School Shooting Since 2018
A 15-year-old boy has been charged with murder, terrorism, and other crimes for a shooting that killed four students and injured others.
3 min read
Dozens of police, fire, and EMS personnel work on the scene of a shooting at Oxford High School, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, In Oxford Township, Mich.
Dozens of police, fire, and EMS personnel work on the scene of a shooting at Oxford High School, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, In Oxford Township, Mich.
Todd McInturf/The Detroit News/AP
School Climate & Safety Violence, Hate Crimes in Schools Surged in Pre-COVID Period, Federal Watchdog Finds
Data from several years preceding the pandemic sketched a troubling trajectory, the Government Accountability Office found.
7 min read
Hands of people point to a boy insinuating bullying.
iStock/Getty Images Plus