The Present State of Student Attendance

Nov 14, 2014 by

Let’s not imply that the reported problem of grade school absenteeism, that Chancellor Farina is wisely developing programs to reduce, is due to lack of challenging lessons or inspiring teachers.

Poor parenting is the likelier cause.

Attending school is the default activity for some students and in some cases their parents seem not to care because they look the other way. Obviously there are extraordinary situations that arise which pull kids out of school because of compelling family responsibilities, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.

But one must be on the lookout for them.  Homeless children and those uprooted by poverty with many kinds of instability thrust upon them deserve flexibility and our willingness to see the “big picture.”

But I am not referring to these cases, but rather, for example, to students who suddenly vanish for months at a time. Their parents sometimes make no arrangements for their child to keep abreast while gone or to catch up on assignments upon returning. Nor do they notify the school prior to departure or give any contact information while they are away.

It should be communicated to parents that it is not their option to put their child on extended hiatus from school whether for a global adventure or a family reunion. Parents may be ignorant of school attendance mandates or defiant of them, but school authorities should not be afraid to express official disapproval, even when they are not in a position to enforce any penalty.

Naturally, their children are innocent and must not be made to suffer  personal embarrassment or shame over their parents’ actions.

Protracted absences hurt the child and may ricochet against his teachers and their school because the child’s academic standing may be jeopardized by his performing poorly on mandated high-stakes standardized tests for which he was unprepared. His diligent teacher’s performance evaluation, which is determined, among other factors, by her students’ exam outcomes, may be impacted, as could the school’s rating, which is based in part on attendance data.

Of course the worst consequence of missing school is losing out on the thrill of learning and social interaction.

Attendance is obviously essential to learning. But there are times when it should be discouraged for the welfare of the child and others in the school community.  Yet principals, parent coordinators and other personnel sometimes pressure parents into sending their children to school even if they are feverish or otherwise sick because in education it’s all about numbers these days. Full attendance is somehow equated with a well-run school. It is treated as a yardstick to measure excellence in education.

Judging by this, it appears that it’s the body count of children in seats that matters, not whether they are in a condition for school that day. Better to be attentive, infectious and present than an absentee who contributes to unflattering data.

Principals and teachers are skittish about diplomatically “laying down the law” to parents, because the support of parents is being courted by every party in the raging debates about education: the charter school “reformers” and their enablers who believe in privatizing education, the Department of Education, and the teacher unions.

Everybody wants “the parents” on their side. This makes everyone fearful of offering even constructive criticism, even if it will benefit the parents and their children.

But that wariness, though understandable, must be overcome. Schools should be respectful of parents. They should be discreet and avoid appearing intimidating whenever possible. Certainly parents should never be harassed. But neither should the authorities kowtow to them. That’s not being supportive.  Without patronizing parents, they should with a tactful tone  be instructed what is expected of them. This can be done firmly and without condescension.

They must exercise proper judgment in keeping children out of school or sending them to class. If they are seriously symptomatic ,there is no excuse to expose  the whole school community to infection.  And if they are perfectly well, there is no justification in embarking on a literal “Around the World In 80 Days” tour.

Let them read the book instead.

Ron Isaac

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