At the end of the second marking period my Assistant Principal used to call us in one by one and question us about pass/fail rates in our classes. Why did I fail so many kids? I explained that while I was working on my ESP powers: I had not yet perfected them and unfortunately I was not successful with the kids who weren’t in class. Did you call the absentees? Sorry, my Star Trek Universal Translator wasn’t working and I was a little rusty in Croatian, Uzbek and Mandarin. By the way, I asked, “Why did it take a month to complete program changes? Why wasn’t 9th grade class size significantly lower? Why did the counselors have humongous student loads?”
For a fourteen year old a high school can be a frightening place: threats of violence, demanding classes and total anonymity. The student becomes a faceless, nameless OSIS number in a sea of students. It is not surprising that a quarter to a third of high school kids are absent every day … and not the same kids. How many high school students are absent more than twenty days a term?
On a citywide basis only a third of students enter high school having met standards in ELA and Mathematics. At Franklin K. Lane High School : only 13% enter 9th grade at standard. 42% of the students enter overage, 43% of students in the school are 9th grader by credit and it is not surprising that the average daily attendance this year to date is 61.1%. (All data comes from Department of Education School Report Cards)
Far Rockaway High School even has a higher hill to climb: only eleven per cent of students enter having met ELA and Math standards, 38% enter overage and 40.3% of the school is 9th grade by credit.
We could name school after school with the same handicap, overage entering classes made up of 80-90% of students who have not met ELA/Math standards. You would think the Department would target entering 9th grade classes: a three week Summer Bridge program, significantly lower 9th grade class size, teams of 9th grade teachers with common planning time, counselors with reasonable case loads, close relationships with Social Service agencies, Community and Faith Based Organizations.
Instead the elves at Tweed mandated a single, inflexible method of instruction and spent three years demeaning teachers in a mean-spirited contract struggle.
The ATS system (Automate the Schools) collects a range of attendance data and can manipulate it into sundry reports. With a push of a button ATS can tell you how many 407 Reports have been generated (excessive absence), how many LTAs (long term absences) exist. It’s obvious: once the student is out the door it’s too late: a classic example of a reactive approach to a problem. We need proactive approaches: we could save student academic lives if we spent the money as the student entered the school door not as he was walking out the door. Pay now or pay later.