showing up

More than scores

the truant chase

New York

From Buffalo, a warning for local consensus on absent students

The city and teachers union aren't anywhere close to settling on new teacher evaluations. But if and when they do strike a deal, they might have to revisit a point of agreement. Leo Casey, a teachers union official, told me recently that before negotiations broke down in December, the city and UFT had agreed that only students with a minimum attendance rate should be counted in teachers' scores. Exactly what that rate would be was still up for discussion, Casey said, but everyone agreed on the basic principle that if students aren't in class to learn, it's not fair to hold teachers responsible for their learning. It's an outlook that teachers at schools under threat of closure have shared over and over. At Washington Irving High School, teachers protesting the city's ultimately successful closure proposal argued that the school would have much stronger performance data if  the city excluded the school's many "long-term absences" from its progress report calculations. It's also a point that united Buffalo and its teachers union as they negotiated a new teacher evaluation system earlier this year for schools eligible for School Improvement Grants. In February, they settled on a system that would exclude chronically absent students from the student growth portion of evaluations. But the State Education Department rejected that portion of their compromise. In the rejection letter, Education Commissioner John King explained that Buffalo's evaluation system would have applied the attendance provision to the 20 percent of evaluations that the state controls, and that's not allowed. But another problem, he wrote, was that the provision could be abused.
New York

A student says the city's anti-truancy push changed her life

Jean Robinson, a senior at the High School for Teaching and the Professions, speaks at a press conference Wednesday about truancy reduction. As the new kid at the High School of Teaching and The Professions in the Bronx two years ago, Jean Robinson awoke each morning filled with dread and anxiety about going to school. "You know, everybody has their own different cliques and I wasn't really fitting in with any of them," Robinson said. A sophomore transfer, Robinson missed her old friends and began skipping school. Over the course of the 2009-2010 school year, she missed more than a month of school and, with each passing day, knew a high school diploma was further and further out of reach. "I thought about it every day, but I just felt like I needed that extra push," Robinson said. "I didn't have that at the time." Robinson's paltry attendance rate caught the eyes of city officials, who at the same time were launching a citywide push to raise attendance rates among students who were absent most often. They paired Robinson with a mentor who monitored her attendance and made sure she was showing up to school. With the help from her mentor, a school guidance counselor, Robinson last year reduced her absence rate by more than 50 percent, missing just 10 days of school. Robinson's turnaround was touted by Mayor Bloomberg as a success story of the year-old attendance initiative called "Every Student, Every Day," which, in addition to mentors, included letters home to parents and celebrity wake-up calls. As a result of the first year's success, Bloomberg announced Wednesday that the city was more than doubling the initiative's scope, from 25 schools to 50 schools with more than 4,000 students.
New York

City takes to the phones in battle against chronic absenteeism

Last year, the city launched a campaign to reduce absenteeism with a letter home. Today, it's following up with a phone call. Students from 25 schools who have missed 10 or more days this year will soon start receiving early-morning wake-up calls from celebrities such as Magic Johnson and the rapper Big Boi, the city announced today. The calls, which city officials say will eventually be made to frequently absent students in all schools, mark the second phase in the city's push to boost attendance. The first phase, which launched in August, marshaled resources from across city agencies to target the most frequently truant students at the 25 schools. Extreme absenteeism is down at those schools, the city said today. The attendance initiatives follow a 2009 report by Center for New York City researchers that revealed that the city's 91 percent average attendance rate masks chronic absenteeism among a fifth of students. The pitfalls of tardiness are explored in two pieces in the GothamSchools Community section today, coincidentally enough. Collin Lawrence, a former teacher who has been recounting his four years working at a small high school in Brooklyn, writes that no one seemed to care that few students got to school when it started. And launching a new column, Bronx high school college counselor Brendan Lowe describes waking up at 5:30 a.m. last month to call students scheduled to take the SAT. Lowe writes: Crazy? Perhaps. Did we help our students? In a short-term sense, absolutely. Last year, 40 of 59 students (67 percent) failed to show up for their first sitting of the SAT, thereby wasting one of two possible fee waivers. This year, 57 of 60 students — 95 percent — actually took the test. The city's complete press release is below: