Study to Examine Public Transportation and Student Attendance

A School of Education study will provide the first empirical evidence of the relationship between public transportation and high school students’ attendance and tardiness.

Marc Stein, an assistant professor and an affiliated researcher with the Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC), will lead the yearlong study.

“This will inform policy and discussions with a broad array of stakeholders about student transportation, tardiness to school and school choice,” he said.

In 2013-2014, the average daily attendance rate among city schools’ high schools was 81.8, according to the Maryland Report Card, and 40.6 percent of high school students were absent more than 20 days. Stein said there is a widely held belief among students, schools and community members that transportation is a significant contributor to student absenteeism.

“This belief has validity, but it remains an empirical question that requires investigation,” he said. “The central question motivating this investigation is the relationship between how students get to school and their timely arrival.”

In the spring of 2014-15, city schools and the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) ran a pilot project merging bus passes with school IDs. It included student use of MTA bus service and daily arrival at school at Digital Harbor High School, Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School and Commodore John Rodgers Elementary/Middle School.

“These data potentially will allow the relationship between transportation and student attendance to be analyzed in Baltimore for the first time,” he said.

The project will investigate the following:

·      How can student bus routes to school be classified? (For example, time en route, number of transfers, distance/travel time from home to bus stop, and distance/travel time from bus stop to school)

·      Are different bus routes associated with attendance? (For example, time en route, number of transfers, distance/travel time from home to bus stop, and distance/travel time from bus stop to school)

·      How many students follow the same route each morning?

·      Is the complexity of a student’s route to school—distance, time, transfer—associated with timely arrival at school?

·      Can segments of the morning trip to school that are associated with timely arrival be identified?

·      How do MTA service levels within segments affect timely arrival?

·      Does timely student arrival at school vary as a function of mode of travel (e.g. walking versus public transportation)?

As part of the analyses, Stein and fellow researchers will link data from the One Card pilot—student swipes onto MTA transportation and student swipes into school or classroom—to administrative data that includes students’ last known home address and attendance.

The study is being conducted in partnership with the Baltimore City Public Schools’ Office of Operations, which is responsible for school transportation.

“This the project is designed to provide information to city schools that can potentially inform decision-making and improvements in student transportation,” said Stein. “We will also begin work on the development of tools—web applications—that could be used by children and families to better understand transportation to school, as well as improve decision-making in public school choice, particularly at the high school level.”

For more information about BERC, click here.