30 Days in September
NOTE: The following ran September 6, 2009 as an Editorial in The Shreveport Times as the opening to the "30 Days In September" Attendance Campaign.
School is open again across northwest Louisiana, and for tens of thousands of children it is a joyous time full of new friends, new opportunity and new ideas. But sadly, for 5,000-7,000 children it marks a time when they will simply slip farther away from the dream of gaining a high school diploma. The first 30 days of school are so vital to the ultimate success of a child we have again partnered with the Learning to Finish Campaign and The Times to provide the attendance data for all public schools in Caddo and Bossier. This marks the third year of trying to bring focus to a vital issue that is slowly choking our community. The good news is people are starting to pay attention and efforts are underway to improve this and many other drop-out issues.
Over the past two years we have seen improvement in attendance numbers in Caddo and Bossier. Much of the credit is due to those teachers and counselors and support staffers doing the hard work every day in the trenches. Organizations like Rutherford House, Volunteers for Youth Justice, Volunteers for America and the Bossier Truancy Office have also stepped up their good efforts. And we have new partners in local law enforcement, District Attorney’s Charles Scott and Schuyler Marvin and numerous judges. The Community Foundation put up a $200,000 grant to help seed a new truancy process in Caddo Parish, which is showing real results in the way truancy cases are processed and the speed at which the community can react to provide more help sooner to those in need. This new process uses the best parts of that which was already in place and seeks to extend service into schools here-to-fore greatly underserved. It is working and one community challenge will be to find a way to keep it going beyond the year one funding.
Over the past two years our truancy and drop out work has also taken root across the state as more people and communities are waking up to the real reality and cost of children not graduating. Change is happening at a fast pace in education, but all change is not bad. Across north Louisiana we have new superintendents in Bossier, Caddo, Claiborne and Natchitoches. And they bring with them new ideas and energy.
Locally, Bossier will be challenged to restore public trust and continue to provide and grow what is viewed as a good and solid system. Caddo will be challenged to meet competition head on and prove it can provide the same quality education in its failing schools that it does provide in more than 60 schools that regularly meet and exceed State and National standards. Initial results are positive. In the first year of Dr. Dawkins’ tenure it is especially encouraging to see Caddo have six traditionally failing schools exceed the State minimum standard and thus have the label “failure” removed. But we all acknowledge minimum standards are not acceptable to the children or our community. I agree with Dr. Dawkins that all schools can improve.
In the end it all starts and stops in the classroom. But all the focus on quality teaching and teachers will yield little result if children are not in school to learn. This is our community challenge. This is why we are again publishing the attendance data. Keeping focus on something is hard in today’s 24/7 news cycles. And while the complete daily school count chart will be on our website (www.alliance4education.org), the intent of this weekly recap is help place focus on our responsibilities as parents, grandparents and advocates for our children. So for the next month pay attention. If you see children you know out of school do not be afraid to ask why? The research is clear that today’s truant is tomorrow’s drop out. When it comes to attendance there should be no excuses. We can all help get kids back in school.
Click below to download the latest School report
30 Days In September (Excel Document) August 31 - September 4, 2009
30 Days in September (Excel Document) September 4 - September 10, 2009
30 Days in September (Excel Document) September 11 - 17, 2009
30 Days in September (Excel Document) September 18 - September 24, 2009
30 Days in September (Excel Document) September 25 - October 1, 2009
NOTE: The following ran October 4, 2009 as an Editorial in The Shreveport Times as the closing to the "30 Days In September" Attendance Campaign.
For the past 30 days the Alliance For Education and the Learning to Finish Campaign has been tracking the daily attendance data for all public schools in Bossier and Caddo parishes. We have been reporting data through a partnership with The Times in the Sunday paper. Today’s chart concludes the campaign and presents a summary of the data collected over the past month.
Overall we believe the data shows a very solid performance for daily attendance in our local school systems. It is worth noting that the data this year is highly influenced by the outbreak of various flu related illnesses in our region, factors that were not in place this early in 2007 and 2008. Caddo’s rate for 2007 was 4.50% and for 2008 was 4.30%. This year we see a flu-impacted number of 4.96%. Bossier was 4.30% for 2007 and for 2008 was 3.90%. This year we see a flu-impacted number of 5.27%. We also witnessed a high volume of student turn-over between schools in the Caddo system as some schools were closed, others adapted to new formats and many were hit with new populations of students. This mass change also resulted in the creation by the State of Louisiana of two Public Charter Schools in Linear Leadership Academy and Linwood Public Charter School. We collected that data and it is also presented to show a 10.70% absentee rate in the Public Charter Schools.
So what did we learn? I believe we can clearly see that attendance matters. There is no causal connection between performance and attendance. High performing schools have very low rates of absenteeism. Struggling schools more often than not have higher levels of absenteeism, often to the point where those students not attending are having more impact on the school’s test scores with their zero test scores than those who are actually attending every day and working hard. This issue will become even more important as schools work to deal with revised statewide attendance laws that increase the standard for time required in class to be able to pass to 96%. The legislature clearly believes being in school is important, and our local communities are much better positioned to deal with this change since we have been placing such a focus on this exact issue for three years.
In the end what really matters is are you helping children succeed. Tracking attendance is only the first step. It’s the easy part. Once you can identify who is not showing up, making contact with the child and addressing the reasons why is much more difficult. Bossier has an outstanding Truancy Center through its District Attorney’s office that is cutting edge in terms of using technology to locate and help kids. Caddo has recently made the commitment to upgrade its technology systems to allow such collaboration to take place, and Caddo District Attorney Charles Scott has been working hand in hand with Dr. Gerald Dawkins, Juvenile Judge David Matlock and dozens of others around the truancy process to make it very clear it is a new day in Caddo in terms of dealing with truancy. With the continued good work of Volunteers For Youth Justice and Rutherford House, children are finding help and the court load is being reduced by working to keep children in school.
So for the past three years we have collected and reported attendance data. Along the way many good things have happened including new technology systems, new focus on parental accountability, better understanding of who is missing school and why, and a strong commitment from the community and the school system to step up and work to address the issue. And flu data withstanding, it is starting to pay off. Six Caddo schools came out AUS status earlier this year, and improved attendance was certainly a factor in those schools test scores. Our challenge now will be to make the commitment to continue the out of the box thinking that brought us the changes we are seeing. The Community Foundation’s willingness to commit the $200,000 seed funding to help VYJ implement the new ACT Now (Abolish Caddo Truancy Now) process that works with Rutherford House to help kids find help. The commitment from the Caddo Parish Commission, the City of Shreveport and Caddo Schools to provide more FINS (Families In Need of Services) officers to help the overloaded court case loads by working directly with families and schools. The decision by Dr. Dawkins and the Caddo Board to hold mandatory Parent/Guardian meetings in every school before the first day of school. These acts need to be recognized and rewarded. They also need to be worked into the comprehensive program of services and not have to rely on yearly fundraising to insure we help our children. The local models are working and the courage of our District Attorney’s and School Boards to invest in strong truancy programs needs to be supported.
Simple put, children not in school cannot learn, and the bar on how little you can miss has just been raised. I have full confidence our community will continue to step up and do what it takes to clear the next hurdle.