Chronically Absent Students Missed by School Reporting

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A new study finds up to 15 percent of American children are chronically absent from school, missing at least one day in 10 and doing long-term harm to their academic progress.

The New York Times's Richard Perez-Pena reports on the study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. It suggests that school districts are looking at absenteeism the wrong way, by focusing on average daily attendance figures instead of the few students who are consistently missing school.

They found that some schools report an average of more than 90 percent daily attendance, masking the fact that 40 percent of their students are chronically missing.

“We don’t see the problem clearly because, in most places, we don’t measure it, and average daily attendance really skews the way we view this,” said one of the authors, Robert Balfanz, a research professor at the university’s School of Education.

Many studies have linked chronic absenteeism to higher drop-out rates, and low-income children are more likely to miss school. High absenteeism is also linked to low academic performance.

But not enough states are looking at the chronically absent students, according to the study. It found that only six states — Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon and Rhode Island — measure chronic absenteeism, along with a few local systems, including New York City.

In New York City, 20 percent of public school students are chronically absent, the study found. The city was singled out for building one of the strongest campaigns against the problem. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg set up a task force to address it, with the help of law enforcement and social service agencies that had been working with schools for a long time but weren't sharing information with each other.

Almost 200 students will have their SAT exam results tossed because they sat too close together while taking the exam. The students took the exam this month at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn. The Daily News reports that Educational Testing Service, which administers the SATs for the College Board, requires students to sit at least four feet apart during the exam to prevent cheating. A company inspector who conducted a surprise visit found the students were sitting much closer.

The students came from many schools, and there was no evidence that any of them were cheating. While they'll be allowed to retake the exam this weekend, Jenny Anderson of The Times wrote, the head of the Packer school isn't happy:

“We are disciplining the people responsible for the administration of the test and making sure these adjustments are made,” said Bruce Dennis, the head of Packer. “But all of that could have been done without invalidating the test. To do this to 200 kids is unconscionable.”

An audit by the city comptroller, John C. Liu, found that the tutoring company Champion Learning improperly collected about $860,000 from the city in the 2009-10 school year. The money was billed for working with students who had not actually signed into tutoring sessions, or for tutoring sessions that weren't certified by officials for taking place. The audit blames lax oversight by the Education Department, which says it's been making improvements since then.

And unions representing the city's teachers and principals wanted a state judge to issue an injunction Wednesday barring the city from hiring any new staff members for the 24 schools it plans to close and reopen by the fall. But State Supreme Court Justice Joan Lobis told them to essentially cool their heels. She asked the unions and the city if they could work on getting an arbitrator to hear the unions' complaints as soon as possible, since the case is really a contractual matter.

The unions argue that the city is violating their contracts by moving to oust existing teachers and supervisors from the schools. At the judge's suggestion, the parties agreed to combine their cases into one, and to find an arbitrator who can hear the case quickly. They had presumed the case would go to arbitration, but they weren't sure how soon that could be accomplished. In the meantime, the city said it would continue to look for new hires but would not make final personnel decisions Thursday while the two sides try to get an arbitration date.

There's a roundup of more city education news at Gotham Schools.

Around town today, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott will speak to the members of the Association for a Better New York at 8:30 a.m., at the Sheraton in Manhattan. The Department of Education won't provide any details, only that Mr. Walcott will review his first year as chancellor and discuss his vision for the future of the city's schools. He'll be introduced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The St. Aloysius School in Harlem is holding its annual scholarship dinner at the New York Hilton this evening to commemorate 20 years since the school’s “rebirth.” Founded in 1940 by the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary, St. Aloysius was on the brink of closing in 1992 when Rev. Joseph P. Parkes. S.J., head of the New York Province for the Society of Jesus, led an initiative to restructure and reinvigorate the school financially. In 2010, the school became the New York area’s first Jesuit-sponsored independent school. This fund-raising event annually contributes 15-20 percent of the school’s operating revenue.

Over 75 employees from the tech world will help City Year New York on a project at Public School 161 the Don Pedro Albizu Campos School to transform a courtyard space into a gardening and play area. The employees hail from Dimension Data, NTT Communications and Blue Coat.

At 8:30 p.m. the public television show MetroFocus will premiere a new episode, "Education Innovation,” on THIRTEEN WNET about controversial issues in teaching. The program, hosted by Rafael Pi Roman, features the Internet educator Sal Khan, one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people; the best-selling author and Harvard professor Michael Sandel; and Chancellor Dennis Walcott. The program will look at the controversial issue of teacher evaluations, a new approach to tackling the drop-out rate and a report on one undocumented student's campaign to pass a DREAM act in New York.

The show also encourages viewers to post their comments on how teachers should be evaluated at its Web site.