Sunday, June 19, 2011

Attendance: In-School or Non-School Problem?

This NY Times piece on chronic absenteeism in schools was interesting, particularly this paragraph:

The problem has hardly disappeared. Last year, at 42 percent of the city’s 700 elementary schools, one in five students missed a month or more of school, according to the New School study. But four years ago, that was true of 58 percent of the schools. And high school attendance is worse and tougher to fix: 34 percent of the city’s high school students missed a month or more of school last year

Most notable to me: over one-third of all high school students in NYC missed at least a month of school.  It's obviously pretty difficult for even the best teacher to teach students who aren't there.  The bigger question that I'm not sure I've ever seen addressed in research is to what extent a school can be expected alter the attendance patterns of its students.

One can imagine a scenario in which a teacher, administrator, or schools goes above and beyond their normal job description and does things like showing up at a student's door in the morning or something less drastic.  But to what extent can we expect teachers, administrators, and schools to improve the attendance of students?  If students aren't in school we can't possibly expect teachers to teach them.  But is it fair to expect teachers and others to attract kids to school?  Should that be part of the job description?  Or should we add it to the long list of non-school factors over which schools have no control?


mmazenko said...

I, in some ways, support some sort of minimum attendance requirement for credit in classes. Certainly, state guidelines allow schools to remove students who never attend - but the process is prohibitive and the minimum requirements are ridiculously loose.

Years ago, a school district in Illinois tried to mandate attendance by refusing to grant credit for any class missed ten days in a quarter or twenty in a semester. Ultimately, they lost in court when sued because it denied students their property right to an education. Basically, if you pay your taxes, you can legally blow off as much school as you want. And students can't lose credit for anything they in fact accomplished while they were at school - regardless of how minimal.

That wouldn't fly in most countries - which is why they probably produce better results. Either attendance should be compulsory, or school should be completely optional. Right now the system fails in both regards

pspoppy said...

Attendance is always a challenge for me. Sure, kids with excused absences are allowed to make-up missed work, but so much of what we do in Socratic seminar can't be captured in "notes" or written assignment. Most of our assessments are integrated project types, and again, without the benefit of group think alouds, the chronically absent are at a distinct disadvantage. Then there's the whole thing of class unity and rhythm: how can you have cooperative learning or team building when certain students miss days every other week? Truancy laws are not enforced, yet teachers are held accountable for student success - especially on high stakes tests.

Attorney DC said...

Like pspoppy said (above), I found that making up work was a difficult path for chronically truant students to follow. As a practical matter, much of the work classes do is sequential: Missing chapter one of a book, and then reading it a week later after the class has discussed chapter 2, is simply confusing. Similarly, group projects, peer review and other assignments simply can't be adequately 'made up' later in the markig period.

I'm not sure what the solution is to students who frequently miss school, but I don't believe that teachers or schools should have to bend over backwards to accommodate these students, and I don't believe that teachers should be held accountable for the progress (or lack thereof) made by students who are absent an unusually large portion of class.