Missing school

Twenty percent of New York City’s elementary students missed a month of classes or more during the last school year, according to a recent report. In middle school, 24 percent of students missed 20 or more days; by high school, chronic absenteeism rose to 40 percent. In low-income neighborhoods, the number of no-shows was even higher.

At Public School 55, where 20 percent of the students were chronically absent, the principal, Luis Torres, said he had worked to expand a school health clinic so children would not have to miss a full day to visit the doctor. He also hired an outreach counselor to work with immigrant parents to explain that every school day really mattered.

“Other times, it was just that it was raining,” Mr. Torres said. “I had to say, ‘I understand that it’s raining, but that’s not a reason not to come to school.’ And then I just had to get them an umbrella.”

Not surprisingly, kids who miss a lot of school in the early grades tend to fall behind and drop out later on.

It’s hardly an “invisible problem” to inner-city teachers, writes Robert Pondiscio at Core Knowledge Blog.

In my South Bronx elementary school we regularly promoted students who missed dozens of school days, as long as they passed — or even came close to passing – a single standardized test.  In a particularly acute case, I fought unsuccessfully to have one of my 5th graders held over who missed nearly 100 school days.  He received a 1 (below grade level) on his state math test and a 2 (”approaching” grade level) on his ELA exam and was passed without even having to attend summer school.  As long as he scored a 2 or better on either of the tests, I was told, he had to be promoted.  God help that kid.  Three years later, I still get angry thinking about it.

A San Jose K-8 school district with a lot of Mexican immigrant students started sending police officers to parents’ doors to explain that it’s illegal to keep healthy children home from school to babysit, translate or just sleep in. Attendance improved dramatically.

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  1. Miller T. Smith says:

    I’ve written this before aobut Prince George’s County, MD, the 11th largest school system in the U.S. which is on the Eastern border of Washington D.C. 40% of our GRADUATING SENIORS had 20 or more days unexcused absence last year.

    This has happened every year I have been in my system since 1989. This is not news.

  2. I thought that school districts were “paid” based on daily attendance. If we re-instituted that, maybe we’d get close to perfect attendance.

  3. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Districts are not paid for daily attendence. It’s enrollment level, which is determined the first week of school. Attendance and graduation rates are factors in determining AYP, though.

  4. In California, average daily attendance (ADA) is the basis for a lot of the school’s income. When my daughter was placed in a functionally remedial class, she was absent enough that she could have been considered truant. The school did not want to go there. We would have explained to the judge that my daughter sat in class reading under her desk, spent her days reviewing material she had already mastered and was sent home with busywork for homework. Since my daughter scored Advanced on Math and Language Arts for the state test that year, I don’t think the school wanted to have that conversation.

  5. Amazing that once the police were brought in in San Jose the situation improved…just goes to show that tiptoeing around the issue out of respect for their socioeconomic or immigrant status just doesn’t work.

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    Tiptoing doesn’t work well, but then neither does the court system by and large. Solving problems that interfere with attendance does. Sometimes the problem is that nobody within that big building full of people cares a fig whether you are there or not.

  7. Much more important is whether that one or two people in a much smaller building care whether you are in school or not.
    Except for the chronically disruptive, I’d much rather have perfect attendance because it is such a hassle to deal with absences.
    Sometimes the problem that interferes with attendance is the parents and the parents alone. As far as I know there’s little incentive to get these parents to change their ways short of the fear of the court system.

  8. >I thought that school districts were “paid” based on daily attendance. If we re-instituted that, maybe we’d get close to perfect attendance.

    Why stop at half measures? How about making compensation a function daily attendance? From superintendent to teacher, the contents of the paycheck are a function of attendance the preceding week.

    That will make a high school diploma as important to the professionals as it ought to be to the kids.

  9. Long ago in the Army we had training holidays (no cash) given to batteries that had no AWOLS. The idea was to encoruage the enitre battery to keep people from running away. Instead of rewarding individual students to attend. Why not reward an entire class only for perfect (or very near perfect) attendance. Instead of cash give them time off or a class trip. Instead of motivating individuals motivate the group.


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