Poor student attendance is one of the biggest problems facing Buffalo, as well as most other urban districts. It's pretty simple: If students are not in school, they can't learn -- no matter how beloved the teacher is, how engaging the lesson is, or how interactive the classroom technology is.
Buffalo officials are taking steps to help them understand why students don't come to school. They've asked Hedy Chang, a California-based national researcher who specializes in student attendance issues, to analyze student attendance in the Queen City.
The district has already provided her with several years of student attendance data from Buffalo. Next, she'll come up with specific questions to ask focus groups in Buffalo over the next several weeks. While focus groups are not known for yielding the strongest scientific data, local officials say they believe it's the research method most likely to help them reach an understanding of why kids don't show up to school.
The current issue of Education Week takes a look at attendance issues on the national level. The story, which cites Chang as an expert in the field, notes that Baltimore seems to be making the best progress in battling student absenteeism.
Reporter Sarah D. Sparks writes: "The district has moved to require an attendance monitor in every school, as well as districtwide incentives for students to come to school more often and education for parents and teachers on the importance of attendance."
Sparks goes on to tell about Deidre Reeder, an attendance monitor at an elementary school. She "makes her first of three rounds at 8 a.m., ducking into classrooms to check attendance. For the students who aren't there, she gets on the phone to parents, grandparents, whoever is available...
"'If some children have missed a day or two, then I go out and get in my truck, because I know I'm going to be makign a stop,' Ms. Reeder said. 'People will hear me knocking on the door, and the kids just start getting dressed.'"