My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Absences through the roof at school

Amherst Bulletin
By Nick Grabbe, Staff Writer
Published on July 17, 2009

School Committee members expressed surprise at the number of Amherst Regional students who have excessive absences and are seeking more information about who they are and why they are out.

Principal Mark Jackson told the committee last month that 262 students - about a quarter of the school - exceeded the limit of eight absences in at least one course in the spring trimester. Theoretically, all these students could have been denied credit. Jackson said the high school is considering a change in enforcement of the policy.

"Our enforcement has been spotty," he said in an interview. "The only thing to do is enforce the policy as it's written. We'd like to be in a better place and do what we say we're going to do."

Jackson said some students who exceeded the absence limit did not receive credit, but didn't say how many. He said the school's goal should be figuring out how to help kids make good decisions.

"We haven't been good on this, and we're going to be better," he said. "My message is that they can expect us to be good to our word."

According to the policy, students are allowed eight absences in each trimester course before losing credit, with tardiness counting as one-third of an absence. Absences at the student's or family's discretion are counted, while absences the school requires, such as for testing and field trips, are not. Any student exceeding the limit can apply for an attendance waiver that can restore lost credit.

The number of students exceeding the absence limit "seems extraordinarily high," said School Committee member Catherine Sanderson. But she needs more information about who these students are and what their motivation is before she endorses a crackdown, she said.

"A lot of these students are getting A's and B's," she said. "The question becomes, what do you do with a student who is exceeding the number of absences but is clearly showing mastery of the material?"

To force students who are very bright and teaching themselves to retake a course because of absences seems "silly," Sanderson said. But if a lot of students are learning the material without going to class, that's a problem, too, she said.

It's also possible that some students who are late for class are deciding it's easier to be absent than to be registered as tardy and have to serve detention, she said. "Is the punishment for late too severe, or is the punishment for absent too lenient, and/or not enforced?"

Some might be seniors who have already been accepted at college and don't feel motivated to go to class, she said: "If the policy is not enforced, students learn that pretty quickly."

School Committee member Irv Rhodes said he was shocked at the number of students with more than eight absences.

High-achieving students who are cutting classes are saying by their absence that "this is not stringent enough for me, or it may not be appropriate for me," Rhodes said.

"Some kids treat attendance as optional," he said. "The bottom line is we need to know why these kids are doing this. If you're going to have a rule, then enforce it."

Last August, members of the Northampton School Committee expressed surprise at the number of requests for attendance waivers at the high school. Assistant Principal Bryan Lombardi said there are between 50 and 90 absences a day.

"Change is coming with me," said new Principal Nancy Athas. "We recognize there is an issue with attendance. I'm here to tell you that students need to be in school, and they need to be there every day."

Since then, there has been "a huge increase in communication with parents," said Kim Broussard, Athas' administrative assistant. Lombardi has been sending letters to the parents of students who have high levels of absences, and when report cards are sent out, memos are included on lost credit because of poor attendance and the need to come see him, she said.

Students can have up to nine absences per semester in full-credit classes, Broussard said. Near the end of each semester, students are notified they must come to the office to get an attendance waiver and a printout of their attendance to take home, she said. Parents can then provide documentation of the reasons for the absences.

The policy is enforced across the board, she said. The number of absences has declined, she said, but she was unable to provide any statistics.

At Easthampton High School, student absences are excused for illness, medical appointments, bereavement and some religious observances. Three unexcused absences, or 14 excused absences, result in referral to the School Attendance Review Board.

This board, which includes faculty members, a psychologist, and a nurse, meets at the end of the semester, said Assistant Principal Anne Beauregard. It reviews each student's situation and decides whether to impose or defer loss of credit.

Thirty-one students went before the board last year in a school with about 530 students. About half lost credit because of their attendance problem and about half regained credit, she said.

"Things happen in people's lives that you have to take into account," Beauregard said.

Nick Grabbe can be reached at


Anonymous said...

Good idea to drill down and determine the particular factors and different situations for student absences.

An important factor in teaching accountability to tees is to have prompt feedback and proximate consequences. So if a student skips class without permission, they should be alerted by the system and have a prompt consequence, such as Thursday evening or Saturday morning class or whatever constructive consequence you can identify.

If the feedback and consequences come only at he end of the semester, it will continue to be an ineffective disciplinary/teaching mechanism.

Anonymous said...

tees = teens

Anonymous said...

If you think absences are bad at the high school you should take a good look at the middle school. There are kids that have WAY more than 8, don't do well in classes, yet go on to the next level without a base to continue. I have seen it several times in just the last few years.

Fed Up Parent said...

Reading this article comparing Amherst to the other districts, it looks as if, once again, Amherst has more of a problem, no current plan dealing with it, and still no concrete plan for the future! This just gets better and better for us parents worrying about our kids' education in town!

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see if the same parents who are calling for an overhaul of the schools will jump on this bandwagon. From what I have heard, the largest group of kids missing school are the ones who take extended vacations, West Coast college trips, "mental health" days, etc. They know how to scramble to make up missed classes, plus they have parents who will advocate for them with teachers and guidance counselors. Of course, further exploration of the actual data will show if these students make up the bulk of the absentees, but I suspect they do.

Rick said...

To me the solution is not to deny credit - which apparently is felt to be too severe - but to lower the grade.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first post-er that the consequence needs to be immediate rather than at the end of the trimester.

Also, the consequence should be related to the infraction -- so rather than assigning a detention for a tardy, the student should have to make up the work that was missed by reviewing or outlining the material that was covered during the time that they missed.

One problem is that this creates extra work for teachers who have to monitor that the student actually does this. Obviously teachers need to be uniformly "on-board" with whatever approach we adopt which I think could be part of our current problem.

Ed said...

I say lets enforce the truancy laws.

If a student is to miss class for religious reasons, lets enforce the law as written: parents must notify the school at the beginning of the year (preferably in writing) of the specific date(s) requested and how the missed work will be made up without undue burden to the school.

If a student is "sick" (including mentally) more than a set arbitrary number (three is what most employers use) a doctor's note is needed.

And as to the parents just taking kids out of school for whatever - that is why the truancy laws were written, lets enforce them and if that means criminally prosecuting a parent or two, that will send a real clear message.

And as to the seniors, do what UMass does with landlords. Every college that got a transcript also gets a letter the first of June that says that either the student continued to make academic progress or that the student hasn't done a damn thing since getting the acceptance letter from BigNameU. I suspect that colleges getting such letters may have second thoughts on some students upon receipt of such a letter.

And low academic standards should be viewed as a form of child abuse. Torture. If the kids know the stuff, and it is fairly clear they do if they can not show up and still get good grades, then lets teach them something they can actually learn.

For many (increasingly many) high school is the last opportunity for a true universal education. Increasingly college on the undergrad level (at least at places like UMass, Amherst & Williams are different) is concentrated in a specific area of interest with high school now being the last exposure to general knowledge.

I consider myself well educated, but after high school, I never touched Physics, Biology, Earth Science, Psychology (as an academic subject as opposed to professional development stuff), Sociology, Geography, Wood Shop, Home Economics (for boys, called "bachellor living" and it was a good course) - and more.

So the flip side is that this is the last time to teach kids stuff that they aren't going to bother with in an increasingly vocationally-oriented higher education system.

Anonymous said...

"One problem is that this creates extra work for teachers who have to monitor that the student actually does this"

Isn't that part of a teachers job? I don't think this counts as "extra" work, it is just part of their work.

Curious said...

Did Principal Mark Jackson explain why he hasn't enforced the attendance policy?

Anonymous said...

Amherst (and a lot of other places) are setting these kids up for failure. Lots of places like Amherst are doing this.

Saw it happen again - girl from a wealthy community who had good grades - comes to college and realizes just how little she actually knows. So we will have to pick her up off the pavement and teach her enough of what she ought to know so she can get buy, but...

Anonymous said...

Some teachers stay after the school day is over to grade papers, work on their lesson plan, give extra help or administer make-up exams.

I think you could find some willing teachers to participate in a program where students staying after school for disciplinary reasons such as tardiness or unexcused absences would have adult supervision.

Anonymous said...

"I think you could find some willing teachers to participate in a program where students staying after school for disciplinary reasons such as tardiness or unexcused absences would have adult supervision."

This is known as detention!! And it exists now and has existed in most public schools for generations.

Nina Koch said...

I have really been trying to quit the blog habit, and I have been resisting temptation fairly well, but there is just so much misinformation on here right now that I am going to fall off the wagon.

1) Yes, teachers do stay after school to give extra help and to prepare lessons. It's in our contract, for one thing, and most of us stay well past the 3pm contractual obligation. Check the parking lot on any given day.

2) There is detention after school run by the Dean of Students Office. Students receive detentions if they are late to school, if they cut a class, and for a variety of other reasons. Consequences for cutting are not postponed until the end of the term.

The issue of losing credit for more than 8 absences is separate from getting a detention for cutting. Loss of credit applies if the absences are excused or not. The newspaper article was about loss of credit, not about consequences for cutting. By the way, field trips do count toward the limit. The newspaper made a mistake on that. Students who go on a foreign exchange will go over the limit.

3) The only circumstances under which it is "better to be absent than late to school" is if a parent wishes to help the child avoid consequences. If the parent writes a note to excuse the child from missing a whole day of school, then true, there are no disciplinary consequences. From my point of view, I can't understand why a parent would do that. Why not just let the child serve the detention for being late? Perhaps it would serve as a deterrent to future tardiness.

If the parent does not write that note, then the child could receive five detentions for five missed classes, along with a zero on any test or in-class assignment given that day. Those are pretty significant consequences. So don't write the note!

4) Punctuality is an important skill. Doesn't it drive you nuts when you are at work and a meeting can't get started because someone is late? Do you like it when people climb over you at the theater once the play has started? How do you feel about the friend who leaves you standing out in the cold and diesel fumes outside baggage claim at Bradley?

Being on time is a skill that people can learn. Sometimes it has to be taught explicitly, so the child is aware of the choices. If you decide to stop for coffee at Rao's and you see that the line is really long, you have a choice. Either turn around and forget the coffee so that you get to school on time, or decide that you want that coffee so bad you will serve a detention for it.

Many of the students who drive themselves to school plan their trip so that they arrive in the parking lot at 7:44 am. This does not allow for a margin of error. They need to learn to incorporate a cushion. This may entail setting the alarm clock five or ten minutes earlier.

5) One very effective way to arrive to school on time is to ride the school bus.

Nina Koch said...

6) The fact that some children maintain their grades despite extended absence does not mean that the courses are not rigorous. It means that those students chose to make up the work and furthermore, teachers took the time after school to help the students make up the work. The teacher may have needed to write extra materials for that student as well. Sometimes we have to reteach entire lessons to kids who were absent. Remember that there are lots of kids vying for the teacher's attention after school. If I am taking time to reteach someone who was absent, then it's possible that someone else's child who struggles with the material is not getting as much extra help as he or she needs.

Not all children do maintain their grades, however. I would actually like to see the numbers on that. As Mark Jackson pointed out, what we are trying to do is to help kids to make better decisions. Some kids can really dig themselves into a hole pretty quickly with just a few absences.

7) Sometimes the academic consequences of missing a class are more subtle than the effect on a grade. It may be a lost experience, with a cumulative effect over time that is not necessarily captured by tests and quizzes. Perhaps the student missed an activity which involved working with examples and counterexamples to infer the definition of something. At the end of the class, the kids work together and establish the definition, which gets written on the board. The student who was absent will come back and get the notes and copy down that definition. She now has that piece of information, but what she missed was the practice in how to draw an inference. Developing her inferential ability is probably more important for her long-term education than knowing the definition of a polygon. But she missed that experience.

Some in-class activities are very hard to replicate. If the class has a lively debate about something that might help to build interest and enthusiasm in a course, the absent student misses out. Again, it's not necessarily reflected in the grade, but it is a loss.

okay I am quitting this blog thing. I am really going to quit.

Rick said...

Nina: don't quit - we need the facts. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I have two kids -- one just graduated from ARHS and one is going into 10th grade. The high school courses are very rigorous if one chooses to take honor level classes. I am tired of people saying that Amherst kids won't be prepared for college or that the high school isn't challenging enough. Many of the text books used in honors classes are college texts. Just talk to any student who takes honors classes and ask them what they think. I've never heard from any parent that their Amherst student wasn't prepared for college. In fact, I've always heard the opposite. And, I've never heard high school parents complaining that the high school isn't challenging their kids.

Rick said...

I totally agree with Anon July 19, 2009 5:17 PM. My two kids also both graduated from ARHS and were very well prepared for college.

I’m afraid that too often the fact that certain specific areas need improvement gets turned into a mindset that "the whole place is a mess" and it is VERY far from that.

Bev said...

I am surprised at the level of cynicism and ignorance in some of these postings. We need to give students and families the benefit of the doubt. Please, look at the whole picture, not just one newspaper article. I suggest that concerned citizens visit the following web site and look at some data collected by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education for the 2008-09 school year. The collection method used by ESE is SIMS--Student Information Management System. (ESE also collects yearly data on school personnel with EPIMS--Educational Personnel Information Management System.) Step #1:go to #2: Click on "Data Collection" and the SIMS page will appear #3: Scroll down to "SIMS Preparation Document," THEN, under that find "Changes for the 2008-09 school year" and click on the icon #4: a "Summary" will appear #5: Go down to 7.DOE052 "Student Truancy, Modify Definition" #6: Click on DOE052. #7: It reads "Truancy is defined as an UNEXCUSED absence based on local school district definitions." My point is, we have to make a distinction between absence and truancy. We have to use the same vocabulary if we are to understand each other. NOW, go back to Step #1. You will be at the Infoservices page. #2: To the left there are topics to choose from. Click on "Statistical Reports" #3: Scroll down to "School District Data Reports" BUT DO NOT CLICK ON IT! #4: First you have to a select a report in the window box to the right, where it says "Please Select One" #5: Click on the arrow and scroll up to "Student Indicators" and click. #6: THEN click on the little orange box/arrow to the right A chart will appear, "2008-09..." PLEASE read the notes at the top or you may misinterpret the data. There are distinct categories for "Attendance" and "Truancy," as well as "Drop Outs", "In-School Suspensions" and "Out-of-School Suspensions." I see contradictions between this data and what was written in the Bulletin. I am most concerned with Amherst Regional's Drop Out rate, compared to other surrounding districts. How does this relate to AR's Attendence rate, which is also on the lower side? Yet the truancy rate is very low, as are most school districts, excluding charter schools. I will hope that the SC can bestow relevance on this conflicting information, or blow it out of the water if that's what it amounts to. If I had to guess, I would say that many of those AR absences are really truancies. And are truancies a cause of drop outs? If so, we need to stop punishing these at-risk students and bring them back into the fold, shouldn't we?

Fed Up Parent said...

I think those of you whose kids have already graduated from ARHS experienced the Amherst school system of the past, not of the present. My younger children are having a much different experience in Amherst than their older siblings and older neighbors. Amherst used to be a lot of things it no longer is. And if we continue to put our priorities into things that do not promote excellence for all students (the recently-mentioned expensive and illegal busing of ELL students is one example of poor priorities), Amherst will continue a downward slide.

Meg Rosa said...

Question about Tardiness rules. If a child has a doctor's appt in the morning, and is late for school, will the child have a detention for that? Or is it just for children who are late because they choose to be?

If we told them ahead of time or called in the morning, will that count?

Anonymous said...

Regarding "the expensive busing of ELL kids", could someone clarify. I thought the school system concentrated kids of one language in one school to SAVE money, so that when new kids arrived there would be staff who could communicate with students and parents in their native language
(as opposed to having staff fluent in each language in each school).

Anonymous said...

My information on the ELL clustering is about 8 years old, but it was my understanding that clustering them in one particular school concentrated the resources of that specific language in that school, rather than having every elementary school staffed with a variety of languages. My personal opinion would be that maybe the kids feel more secure with other kids who speak their language. It wasn't like it was a deliberate move on the school's part to spend more money or do something illegal. They thought they were doing the best thing.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 11:31 - I agree - the key thing to me seems understanding who is absent/why, and making sure the consequences are clear and consistent (and reasonable). Of course, these then have to be enforceable (e.g., don't know if we can require Sat. AM classes of teachers to supervise or kids to attend!).

Anonymous 11:45 - I've also heard this is an issue at the MS, and yes, if a pattern gets established early, then it seems likely it may continue.

Fed Up Parent - I feel/share your frustration. But I'm encouraged that the HS does seem to be taking this seriously and coming up with alternative plans to deal w/ this.

Anonymous 8:32 - I don't have any idea who the largest group of absences is ... but a far more important issue to me than WHO it is (in terms of are they taking a vacation or whatever) is what is the consequence on that child's learning. If children are missing classes and getting As, that seems to me less problematic than missing school and getting Ds (in terms of life options, mastery of material, etc.). The most shocking thing to me was that apparently many of the students w/ many absences are actually good students! And I do struggle to see how a HS student can do so well if not in class.

Rick - I think this could work, but I also think it sends a weird message -- you have to be in class, even if you don't NEED to be in class to learn the material, yes? And then teachers have to de-emphasize other aspects of grades to more strongly emphasize attendance (e.g., instead of placing more weight on papers/tests). I (obviously) am a teacher, and my solution has been to not accept papers/homework if a student isn't physically in class to turn them in (e.g., a friend can't turn it in for you) and to (in small classes) grade in part based on class participation. But those strategies work better in some classes than others (e.g., ones with more versus less homework, ones in which class participation is valuable, etc.).

Anonymous 10:18 - I agree ... immediate and related consequence ... but how to do this w/o increasing teacher workload? Hard for me to imagine that is really possible?

Ed - I think you raise many good points -- if we expect attendance, kids should attend. But I think it is still tricky -- I've heard kids are marked absent when they are on a field trip (e.g., like to another country for 2 weeks as part of a school trip). Surely we are going to excuse those. Then, we excuse religious holidays, and we excuse health issues (and sometimes kids can be sick with pneumonia or mono that is more than 3 days -- I was my sophomore year of high school!). Then, there are family emergencies -- grandparent dies or whatever. So, it goes back to me for the key point of WHY are kids missing -- and I'm particularly concerned if kids are missing because not being there doesn't seem important/valuable (and hence they continue to get good grades). I heard a story from one parent that her child had missed a tremendous amount of school (religious holidays, family emergency, AND major illness w/ multiple doctor visits during school hours), received warning letters from the school (your child has excessive absences, is at risk of dropping out, etc.) and then received a report card with all As and A+s. That strikes me as indicating that attendance in school isn't necessarily so essential for success (at least in this case, but I fear this is not so unusual from parents who've talked to me already).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 5:15 - it depends on what we are asking of teachers ... meeting w/ each child who misses class to re-teach the material seems like way above their job description, whereas monitoring who was in or not in class seems highly appropriate (as does assigning some consequences for attendance, although again, it seems like that should then be consistent across teachers).

Curious - no, he didn't ... but I think the gist is that it is hard to know how to enforce it, since so many kids are doing well even if not attending, but that he plans to enforce it more in the future.

Anonymous 2:59 - I do believe that may happen in some cases ... certainly our high school should be making sure that all kids are prepared to do whatever they want to do in college (or the work force), and that high expectations are appropriate and important. I certainly see kids at Amherst College with good grades/scores from good high schools who aren't really prepared (esp. in terms of how they write).

Anonymous 1:38 - I think the teachers should be helping craft the policy -- how it will be enforced and what the consequences are. I'd be interested in hearing from teachers about what they'd recommend -- and hope that teachers are communicating their thoughts to the principal on this front.

Anonymous 9:59 - indeed!

Nina - thanks for clarifying a lot of this stuff. In case you haven't given up the blog habit, I have a few questions I'm hoping you can answer (or another teacher).

First, if a student is late to class (let's say slept in or whatever), and has a big game that afternoon -- then wouldn't missing the class completely mean he/she would then have detention a DIFFERENT day, so that might be seen as better than having detention that particular day?

Second, couldn't a parent write a note for just a particular class, not the whole day (e.g., Johnny had a dentist appointment and missed his math class today)? I guess I'd be interested in knowing how many of the absences are students cutting a given class versus missing a whole day of school.

Third, I do think being on time is important ... and that the school should be helping students get responsible habits. I hope that the new attendance policy can help teach that (whereas a policy in which virtually all get an attendance waiver isn't really doing that).

Fourth, I think teachers 100% should not reteach anything that was missed UNLESS the absence was for a documented reason (e.g., religous holiday, health). That seems like a pretty good natural consequence for missing a class. It might also mean that the grades would suffer, which again, I think is appropriate. I too would like to see the data on grades received as it relates to absences.

Rick said...

"I think those of you whose kids have already graduated from ARHS experienced the Amherst school system of the past, not of the present."

Not true for me.

My kids graduated in 2005 and 2007 - not that long ago. I am still involved with parent groups at ARHS and know that really not much has changed since then other than what budgets cuts have taken away.

I would still rate ARHS has "very good to excellent" (depends on department) - as do many colleges - an extraordinarily high number of ARHS students get into Harvard, Yale, Brown, etc...

Rick said...

“…it sends a weird message -- you have to be in class, even if you don't NEED to be in class to learn the material…”

Catherine, I don’t see this as a “weird” message. In the “real world” you have to show up to work every day even if you are not really not needed. Teaching kids that showing up is important is a good idea.

You know, this brings up the point about what K-12 education is supposed to be all about. If it is ONLY about stuffing knowledge into kids' heads then what you say makes some sense – if the knowledge is getting stuffed in there, then why do they need to show up?

But I see K-12 as a lot more than that and should be teaching kids not just knowledge, but how to get along in the world – how to “show up”, how to work with others, etc…

Anonymous said...

Rick, you're absolutely right. A lot goes on in the class, and that's part of the learning that goes on. Once you graduate and you're an adult, you can make choices about attending classes, like in college. But in K-12, the kids need to be there, period.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 5:17 - I'm glad your children have had a great experience. I've heard what you describe from some parents, but I've heard otherwise from other parents, who feel that their children haven't always had a rigorous experience (esp. in certain classes). As a professor at Amherst College, I've also experienced first-hand with my advisees that the students who haven't had AP chemistry are at a real disadvantage in their college level intro chemistry class, so the absence of AP chemistry continues to concern me.

Rick - I'm also glad your children had a good experience ... and I'll go with the flip side of your remark - I find it frustrating that if someone complains about aspects of the high school, one is accused of saying "the whole thing is a mess." I don't think I've said that, and I haven't heard others say that. But I think there are areas in which our district could be stronger -- and I think it should be OK to say that without being accused of saying everything sucks!

Bev - thanks for the links. I haven't gone through all of that info yet, but you raise valuable points/questions that should be answered. Thanks!

Fed Up Parent - I hear this from many parents ... including those whose children went through the schools and now have grandchildren in the schools. I don't think our schools are doing as well as they could be or should be doing ... not that they aren't doing many things well!

Meg - I don't know the answer, but my guess is that if parents write a note excusing the child, then it is not counted as tardy/cutting. Can someone confirm that?

Anonymous 8:14 - I think that was part of the motivation, but I also think there is a fair amount of data now that children really benefit more (at young ages -- NOT in high school) from having full immersion, not the separate tutors. I also think there are cases in which the ELL busing means that children continue to be bused to a new school (w/ their language cluster) for 7 years, even when they don't need the tutoring anymore. From what I understand, the MA policy is now NOT to do this type of busing/clustering.

Anonymous 9:26 - agreed ... it was definitely done for good motivations ... but still is something that is likely expensive and the educational benefits aren't clear (at least to the state of MA).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More responses:

Rick - again, I'm glad your kids had such good experiences. I'm always, however, wary of statements like "so many of our kids get into good colleges." First, we have no idea whether this number of higher or lower than those of other similar districts, so it is hard to interpret. Second, we have no idea what role ARHS played in the admissions -- we live in a community in which many parents have college affilitations and may know more about the admissions process, and/or may have alumni connections that make it easier for their own child to get in. It just isn't clear what is "value added" about our high school.

Rick - OK, fair points. But let me share a story that I've now heard too many times from parents with HS kids a few years ago (don't know if this occurs now). Child does homework (reading), shows up to class, discussion begins, and it becomes apparent that no one else has done the reading. Teacher then says class will spend the day reading the assignment and the discussion will happen the next day. So, what is important for that child about being in that room that day? Again, I have no idea how widespread this is, but it is story I've heard more than once now, and I find it concerning.

One more point -- when I teach, I actually don't make attendance required -- because I want kids to WANT to come to my classes, and I want them to realize that they are going to be missing a ton of information if they don't show up -- I don't want them to think they are going just because they'll get penalized on their grade. So, for me, I like them to see an INTERNAL motivation for coming (learning, participation, enjoyment), not an EXTERNAL motivation (have detention, lose points). But maybe that is the difference between HS and college teaching, and I'm just being naive?!?

Anonymous 11:39 - OK, I may well agree with you (as I in fact noted above). So, do we literally fail all those kids (1/4 of the school) and/or make them retake the class? What do we DO (because I do think unenforced policies are silly).

Anonymous said...

"Child does homework (reading), shows up to class, discussion begins, and it becomes apparent that no one else has done the reading. Teacher then says class will spend the day reading the assignment and the discussion will happen the next day. So, what is important for that child about being in that room that day? Again, I have no idea how widespread this is, but it is story I've heard more than once now, and I find it concerning. "

One of the things I find disconcerting about this story is the effect this experience must have on the child who did the homework and came prepared to discuss the readig assignment in class and then have the teacher cancel the discussion and have the class spend class time doing the previous night's homework. What does this child do during class? Twiddle his thumbs? If I were that kid, the lesson I would take from the experience is either

1. Why bother doing the homework when they are just going to give me time to do this in class the next day. or

2. Why bother going to class - all that will happen is that the kids will be reading. No discussion. No useful class time.

This is such a disconcerting story. If I was a this student and was trying to get the most out of my high school education I would be very discouraged. why is the child who did the work punished because of the laizness of the rest of the class?

I have a child who is entering kindergarten in Sept 2010 - and I am seriously looking into private school for her.

Sammy said...

Student Services has a form letter that they send to families of students--up to 16 years of age--when they are concerned about the number of absences and tardies that a student accumulates during the year. Basically it is a simple mini-lecture on the importance of regular attendance, and names the parents as the responsibility party to ensure compliance. It also states that staff, administrators and Central Office work very hard "to support families in all matters of attendance and will continue to do so." (But it does not say what those supports are). The next paragraph tells parents about the school's partnership with The District Attorney's Office, called "School is Where It's At," which provides "a continuum of services and support to families pertaining to issues of school attendance by working with district staff, students and families so that everyone understands the importance of attendance, and so that the school can "provide support whenever issues of TRUANCY occur." (But it does not say what these supports are). Sounds to me like the Amherst District's Office of Students Services and The Northwestern District Attorney's Office is on top of this attendance/truancy problem. So what's the problem?

Rick said...

“Again, I have no idea how widespread this is, but it is story I've heard more than once now, and I find it concerning."

Yes this story is concerning, but:

A. This is what I mean that when I say that reactions to specific problems sometimes sound like “"the whole thing is a mess” (though granted those (my) words were an exaggeration). The statements “I have no idea how widespread this is” and “I've heard more than once” could literally mean that this has happened twice and indicates that we have no idea how widespread this problem is. If it happens twice it’s not a big deal. If it happens all the time, it is. I doubt if it’s twice and I doubt if it’s all the time. If I had to guess – without any data – I’d say it probably happens sometimes and only in certain courses (e.g. certain teachers).

B. The “correct” answer to the specific problem stated in this story is clearly to figure out how to get the kids to do the assignment, not to dismiss those kids who did the assignment because being in class would be a waste of time.

So when we hear stories like this, the first step is to get data on whether or not this is widespread problem before debating all about how terrible the problem is. Right?

The same is true with attendance. The article that started all of this was about data that had been collected. Having that data in hand, I am sure ARHS will take steps to try to correct the attendance problem.

When bad stuff comes out like this, we should really be taking this stance:

a. Be glad there is data and that somebody is collecting it and looking at it.
b. Be glad that it has been acknowledged as being a bad thing that needs correcting.
c. Be OK with the idea that ARHS many not have a solution yet, because it may not be an easy problem to solve.
d. REMEMBER TO FOLLOW UP on whether a solution gets figured out and implemented.

We are big on blasting away when bad stuff pops up, but then everyone forgets about it down the road. If we really want to make a difference, we will set reminders for ourselves to check in on this problem 3-6 months down the road to see if a fix got implemented and how it’s working.

Anonymous said...

Rick- You are so right. Any positive comments about the schools are dismissed with " well I'm glad YOUR kids had a great experience but I've I heard this (fill in the blank bad story.)

And not to be too cynical (I've lived in Amherst a long time so it's sometimes hard not to be)- I think that one of the reasons that this policy is not enforced is because Mr. Jackson doesn't want to deal with all the phone calls that he would get from angry,complaining parents if he did.

Ed said...

One more point -- when I teach, I actually don't make attendance required -- because I want kids to WANT to come to my classes, and I want them to realize that they are going to be missing a ton of information if they don't show up -- I don't want them to think they are going just because they'll get penalized on their grade. So, for me, I like them to see an INTERNAL motivation for coming (learning, participation, enjoyment), not an EXTERNAL motivation (have detention, lose points). But maybe that is the difference between HS and college teaching, and I'm just being naive?!?

Big difference between child and adult. Adults can realize consequences, children not and that is why they don't have all their civil rights.

Tell me that I have to do something, such as attend school or not be downtown at 2AM, and I will have you in court on civil rights grounds. But it is perfectly legal to tell a 14-year-old that.

There is a difference in development.

Now as to having to physically prevent the high school student from leaving my classroom -- my attitude always was "fine, I really don't want you here either, I am here to teach, not babysit." But I digress....

Anonymous said...

The problem of a child doing his/her homework and the rest of the class not being prepared to discuss the material is more prevalent in the Middle School than it is in the High School. Overall, the teachers in the high school are a bit more strict about this, though that still means it happens often. But, in the middle school, it seems to happen all the time. What these children who come prepared to school learn, is to be frustrated with the other students, and with the teacher. To survive, these students bring lots of their own reading to school, and read a ton, or get ALL their other homework done during the school day. School is not challenging enough for them.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous July 26, 2009 4:42 PM: This was the exactly the experience my two children had in the middle school. There were too many excuses made for the kids who didn't do the homework. And if they didn't have excuses for these kids, the teachers turned a blind eye to it. It was so frustrating.