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.


Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.