Absences: Do you think this will work?
Absences drive me crazy, so I sympathize with any school that is trying to do something about it, but I have my doubts about Buffalo's approach.
Offering a controversial incentive to boost student attendance, the Buffalo
Board of Education voted, 5-4, Wednesday evening to base 10 percent of every
report card grade strictly on how often individual students attend school.
The close vote reflected deep philosophical differences. Supporters of the measure described it as an appropriate way to improve poor attendance rates and emphasize the importance of being in school. Opponents said it offers rewards to students for doing what they should be doing anyway. "To me it's almost bribing children to come to school," said Park District board member Jack Coyle, who voted against the measure. "That's a grave, grave concern to me. I refuse to do that."
North District member Donald A. Van Every, who supported the resolution, said that last school year nearly 80 percent of Buffalo's students were absent six times or more. "I can understand the kid saying to his Mom and Dad: "I need to do this [go to school] because it will help me with my grade,' " Van Every said. "If this small token helps do that, we're on the road."
Beginning next month, students with perfect attendance during a 10-week marking period will receive 10 of a possible 10 points on their report card grades. Eight of ten points will be awarded to students with one or two unexcused absences, while students with three or four such absences will earn six points. Students with five or more unexcused absences will receive none of the 10 points, meaning the highest report card grade they can earn is 90. When the policy was first proposed in May, absences would have counted against students even if they were sick.
The new policy, hammered out after five months of negotiations, provides excused absences for illness, death or illness in the family, impassable roads, religious education, required court appearances or incarceration, approved field trips, college visits, suspensions and several other reasons. Those excused absences will not reduce student grades.
Things might well be different in Buffalo, but this policy would fail miserably in my school. It is not the unexcused absences that drive me crazy; it's those "several other reasons." My own personal favorites are "out of town," "parent request," and "needed at home." Yes, I know that all of these reasons can be legitimate, but when you see them from the same kids week after week, they tend to get a little old. The sad fact is that we have some parents who are willing to sign excuses for their kids for just about anything. And it's not just the parents. A respected businessman in a neighboring community urged his teen-aged employees to skip their afternoon classes because his drive-in was "really busy." I actually have some respect for the kids who come in with an absent slip that just says "skipped" because at least they are being honest. It's the lying and the milking of the legitimate absences for every day that they are possibly worth that have turned my hair so gray.
I wish the Buffalo schools luck, but I'm afraid that all they are going to do is to teach kids and parents in their school district to become better at lying.