Mind the Gap: Taking Attendance


An inner-city schoolteacher on the challenges of getting his kids to come to school.

I start each class with a hearty call-and-response of either "Good morning" or "Good afternoon." When I have class first period, however, there is no need to bellow—I oftentimes have so few students that I can easily greet each one individually.

Attendance is an enormous problem at my school and at many others throughout the city. Absenteeism is one issue, lateness is another, but poor attendance overall is a significant factor in students’ chronic low achievement.

Starting a class with a smattering of students or teaching an incomplete class creates a litany of problems. On Monday, for instance, I had four students at the start of first period. A colleague of mine routinely has only half of his high school freshmen present. Most importantly, students are missing out on opportunities to learn and are thus creating gaps in their knowledge. Less significant but still relevant is teachers’ morale, which really takes a hit when, day after day, only a handful of students are there for the lesson they dutifully prepared with 20-something students in mind.

Students at my school miss class for a variety of reasons. First, there are students with family obstacles, like Jalene, a student and mother who has been absent 30 days and late 67 others. Myriad other family issues, like babysitting younger relatives, bringing a parent to the hospital, visiting relatives from out-of-town and so on, account for more than their fair share of absences and lateness. Some of my students are responsible for taking their siblings to school before they walk through our doors (which, in New York City, can mean a cross-borough or cross-city trek). Other students wake up before their parents, who may work a night shift or not work at all, responsible for readying themselves for school each morning.

Second, there are students generally uninterested in school. This occurrence is universal, of course, and includes all types of students. At my school, however, there is a disturbing trend of the more academically advanced students in my grade expressing apathy toward school (which I believes stems from how rarely us teachers actually challenge them). The most intelligent student in my grade has been absent 29 times and late 54 times.

Third, there is the aforementioned issue of toughness. Part of the reason I had four students in class Monday was because it was raining, and some of my students refused to make the trip in poor weather. Students have missed school because of being sore from an after-school pilates class and from staying up too late playing video games, among other reasons.

Fourth, there are logistical constraints. I teach urban students, many of whom rely on mass transit to get to school. A delay in their commute can throw the morning into chaos. While most students pay for their fares with a MetroCard provided by the Department of Education, if the card gets lost, they are frequently on their own until the next distribution period. As a result, I had a student last year come late to the end-of-year high-stakes test because she had lost her MetroCard and couldn’t find the $2.25 needed to cover her fare. (I told her she should have just jumped the turnstile.) Many of my students also seek medical care from emergency rooms or clinics that do not take appointments. Students have lost entire days of instruction while simply waiting to see a doctor.

What can be done? Parental involvement is a good place to start. The overwhelming majority of parents I have reached out to on attendance-related issues have been helpful in improving their child's attendance. I have called parents asking them to find an actual babysitter or to reschedule a (non-emergency) doctor’s appointment. Generally, parents are happy to comply when they see their student’s teacher looking for ways to get their son or daughter to class.

More meaningful, engaging teaching would also help. If there weren't such variance in teacher quality, students wouldn't pick and choose when to come to school.

Other possible remedies, like New York City’s truancy court, reflect the education establishment’s admission that there are few easy levers they can pull to increase attendance.

On Wednesday, however, I managed to pull off a real trick—every one of my students who had come to class in the last month was in school. Long-term absentees notwithstanding, we had perfect attendance.

Their motivation was a mock Regents exam, a three-hour, practice version of the high-stakes test my students will take in a month’s time. Simply finishing the entire mock exam earned the students 100 points. I had told them more than a week in advance about the exam, and the office staff and I called home that morning to track down late arrivals.

On Thursday, though, we were already back to normal—during second period I had five students who showed up on time, 10 who walked in late, and another five that never came to school at all.

Brendan Lowe is a Teach for America corps member who is in his second year of teaching high school in the South Bronx. His dispatch for GOOD appears on Fridays.

Center for American Progress Action Fund

Tonight's Democratic debate is a must-watch for followers of the 2020 election. And it's a nice distraction from the impeachment inquiry currently enveloping all of the political oxygen in America right now.

For most people, the main draw will be newly anointed frontrunner Pete Buttigieg, who has surprisingly surged to first place in Iowa and suddenly competing in New Hampshire. Will the other Democrats attack him? How will Elizabeth Warren react now that she's no longer sitting alone atop the primary field? After all, part of Buttigieg's rise has been his criticisms of Warren and her refusal to get into budgetary specifics over how she'd pay for her healthcare plan.

The good news is that Joe Biden apparently counts time travel amongst his other resume-building experience.

Keep Reading Show less
Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert

This election cycle, six women threw their hat in the ring for president, but is their gender holding them back? Would Americans feel comfortable with a woman leading the free world? Based on the last election, the answer is a swift no. And a new study backs this up. The study found that only 49% of American men would feel very comfortable with a woman serving as the head of the government. By comparison, 59% of women said they would feel comfortable with a woman in charge.

The Reykjavik Index for Leadership, which measures attitude towards women leaders, evaluated the attitudes of those living in the G7 countries as well as Brazil, China, India, and Russia. 22,000 adults in those 11 countries were surveyed on their attitudes about female leadership in 22 different sectors, including government, fashion, technology, media, banking and finance, education, and childcare.

Only two countries, Canada and the U.K., had a majority of respondents say they would be more comfortable with a female head of state. Germany (which currently has a female Chancellor), Japan, and Russia were the countries least comfortable with a female head of state.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

If you are totally ready to move on from Donald Trump, you're not alone. According to a report last April from the Wason Center National Survey of 2020 Voters, "President Trump will be the least popular president to run for reelection in the history of polling."

Yes, you read that right, "history of polling."

Keep Reading Show less
via Around the NFL / Twitter

After three years on the sidelines, Colin Kapernick will be working out for multiple NFL teams on Saturday, November 16 at the Atlanta Falcons facility.

The former 49er quarterback who inflamed the culture wars by peacefully protesting against social injustice during the national anthem made the announcement on Twitter Tuesday.

Kaepernick is scheduled for a 15-minute on-field workout and an interview that will be recorded and sent to all 32 teams. The Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and Detroit Lions are expected to have representatives in attendance.

RELATED: Joe Namath Says Colin Kaepernick And Eric Reid Should Be Playing In The NFL

"We like our quarterback situation right now," Miami head coach, Brian Flores said. "We're going to do our due diligence."

NFL Insider Steve Wyche believes that the workout is the NFL's response to multiple teams inquiring about the 32-year-old quarterback. A league-wide workout would help to mitigate any potential political backlash that any one team may face for making an overture to the controversial figure.

Kapernick is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) so any team could have reached out to him. But it's believed that the interested teams are considering him for next season.

RELATED: Video of an Oakland train employee saving a man's life is so insane, it looks like CGI

Earlier this year, Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid reached a financial settlement with the league in a joint collusion complaint. The players alleged that the league conspired to keep them out after they began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

Before the 2019 season, Kaepernick posted a video of himself working out on twitter to show he was in great physical condition and ready to play.

Kaepnick took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship game in 2013.

He has the 23rd-highest career passer rating in NFL history, the second-best interception rate, and the ninth-most rushing yards per game of any quarterback ever. In 2016, his career to a sharp dive and he won only of 11 games as a starter.