‘Turnaround’ school hit by teacher absenteeism

Teachers at at a low-performing Rhode Island high school were fired last year, then rehired when they agreed to reforms designed to turn Central Falls High around. But teacher absenteeism is high at the “turnaround” high school, reports the Providence Journal. “More than half of the high school’s 840 students didn’t receive a grade in one or more classes for the first quarter” because they missed so much instruction, reports the Journal.

Since the school year started Sept. 1, there has not been a single day when all of the 88 teachers at Central Falls High School have shown up for work.

On that first day, two teachers called in sick and a third took a personal day.

In addition, several teachers resigned after the start of the school year.  Administrators have struggled to hire replacements and substitutes.

Bitterness remains over the mass firing of all the school’s teachers in February, jobs that were eventually won back through a compromise agreement in May. In exchange for their jobs, the teachers agreed to a list of changes administrators said were necessary to turn around the school, which has among the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the state.

Some teachers resent the new requirements, which include tutoring and eating lunch with students each week, attending after-school training sessions and being observed by third-party evaluators.

Fourteen teachers were judged “unsatisfactory” by outside evaluators out of 71 who were observed.

Student absenteeism also is a problem at Central Falls High. Students and teachers complain that the school is disorderly and dangerous.

Officials blame the union contract, which gives teachers 15 paid sick days and two personal days a year: Teachers can accumulate up to 185 sick days.  Teachers with six years on the job are “entitled to 40 days of extended sick leave at full pay,” which goes up to 50 days after 15 years of service.  Six veteran teachers are out on stress-related medical leave; they’ve been replaced by long-term substitutes.

Teacher absenteeism has gotten worse each month, reports the Journal. In recent weeks, an average of 19 teachers a day out of 88 positions have been absent.

Nationwide, 5.3 percent of teachers are absent on any given day, writes Walt Gardner in his Ed Week blog. Stress pushes up the absentee rate.

Principal in the bedroom

Hoping to get two brothers  to go to school, Principal Ernest Jackson and a school psychologist walked uninvited into a home in Chester, New York to rouse the boys, 12 and 16 years old.  Jackson faces trespass charges.

A criminal complaint alleges Chester Academy Principal Ernest Jackson entered the home without permission when the two boys didn’t come to school in late September, and actually tried to coax them out of their beds.

You don’t walk into someone’s house,” Melanie Hunter said. “I could’ve been coming out of the shower.”

The mother wasn’t home. The father, who filed a complaint, doesn’t live with the family.

The principal, now on leave, shouldn’t have walked into the house. As for the mother who can’t get her sons to wake up and go to school, you’ll be able to live with your boys for years to come.  They won’t be able to finish high school, get jobs and move out of the house.

Update:  Principal Jackson and the psychologist were reinstated after witnesses confirmed they were invited into the house by a the students’ 20-year-old cousin. “The state has now cleared Jackson and Kavenagh of misconduct and the Village of Chester police have dropped their investigation for trespassing for lack of evidence.” reports the Times Herald-Record.

Clickers on campus

More college professors are using clickers to monitor attendance, quiz students and get feedback from students, reports the New York Times.

If any of the 70 undergraduates in Prof. Bill White’s “Organizational Behavior” course here at Northwestern University are late for class, or not paying attention, he will know without having to scan the lecture hall.

Every student in Mr. White’s class has been assigned a palm-size, wireless device that looks like a TV remote but has a far less entertaining purpose. With their clickers in hand, the students in Mr. White’s class automatically clock in as “present” as they walk into class.

They then use the numbered buttons on the devices to answer multiple-choice quizzes that count for nearly 20 percent of their grade, and that always begin precisely one minute into class. Later, with a click, they can signal to their teacher without raising a hand that they are confused by the day’s lesson.

Studies at Harvard and Ohio State suggest that the use of clickers increases students’ understanding, the Times reports.

The clickers are also gaining wide use in middle and high schools, as well as at corporate gatherings. Whatever the setting, audience responses are received on a computer at the front of the room and instantly translated into colorful bar graphs displayed on a giant monitor.

Turning Technologies, which sells clickers to Northwestern, expects to ship over one million clickers this year. About half will go to colleges and universities.

Preschoolers wear tracking devices

Preschoolers are wearing tracking devices at a center run by Contra Costa County near Oakland.

When at the school, students will wear a jersey that has a small radio frequency tag. The tag will send signals to sensors that help track children’s whereabouts, attendance and even whether they’ve eaten or not.

School officials say it will free up teachers and administrators who previously had to note on paper files when a child was absent or had eaten.

County officials claim the system, funded by a $50,000  federal grant, could pay for itself within a year.  If they’re spending $50,000 a year taking attendance, they must be paying staffers a lot of money.

School meals help learning but not health

Federally subsidized school meals don’t produce healthier adults, a Georgetown study finds. But the meal program does lead to education gains, apparently because attendance goes up when parents know their kids will be fed at school. From Education Week:

Increasing the percentage of students exposed to the program in a given state by ten percentage points was linked to an added .365 years of schooling for women and a full year for men.

Eighty percent (some say 90 percent) of life is showing up.

90% of life is showing up

Nikka Landau teaches in Taiwan, where teacher absenteeism is not an issue. A teacher always shows up to work unless seriously ill. So do students.

Claire Landau teaches third grade in Philadelphia, where truancy is common for both teachers and students. She writes to her sister:

Your teachers and students go to school with a purpose. For a purpose. Here in Philly, school is a place you show up at (or don’t show up at) each day. This is true for students and it is clearly true for teachers as well.

. . . Raising attendance means schools must come up with innovative ways to make their communities feel responsible for the school and make parents feel accountable for their children’s performance in school. For teachers, raising attendance, means creating a space where teachers are supported and feel motivated to work hard and give their energy.

Finally, measuring attendance and demanding that both, teachers, parents and students do better would mean that, instead of continually passing the buck, we would all have to deal with each other.

Claire recalls a recent Friday: Six teachers out, no substitutes.

Sensors track who's in class

Northern Arizona University will use ID-reading sensors to monitor attendance in lecture classes. It’s all in Community College Spotlight.

Try a little GPS

Some chronic school skippers in Texas must carry GPS devices to ensure they’re going to school and staying there. There’s “a great GPS technology for doing that, already, writes Gently Hew Stone. “It’s called Good Parenting, Stupid.