Assistant Principal’s Corner #5

bus

Why School Attendance is Important? The Big Picture!

After writing on a highly debatable topic like homework, I said to myself, what other sticky topic could I stir the pot with? Ah! Attendance popped into my head. As an assistant principal, we spend much of our time trying to track, chase down, and improve student attendance. This can be daunting and sometimes it feels like a Sisyphean task.   http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/entries/sisyphus.html

So why worry so much if students are not punctual or miss several days of school? Can’t they still get a passing grade and that highly coveted high school diploma? After all, isn’t it just the grade and that piece of paper with the school seal that society says is the most important thing to the students? What is the correlation between having good attendance and academic success? Does being punctual demonstrate respect for others and a sense of commitment and responsibility?

So what does some of the data say? It is evident that students missing ten percent of school in any given school year (chronic absenteeism) reduces even the best teachers ability to provide quality instruction, and those students will be much more likely to either stay back in school or even drop out. One of the greatest factors in improving the quality of life for low-income or at risk students is their education, but having poor attendance greatly decreases their chances for success. Students from all socio-economic groups generally score lower on standardized tests when they missed too much school and are less prepared for college and careers. Many businesses complain that high school and college graduates are chronically late to work and are missing a strong work ethic. http://drjameswellborn.com/preparing-teens-for-the-21st-century-work-place-work-ethic/

Many school systems have vertically aligned attendance policies within their district but don’t uniformly follow the established policies. This is often due to parental push-back, a lack of support by administration, and often changing state guidelines. Raising children is not an easy task at any age, and so many more parents are working  to pay their bills, save for college, and their retirement. This can be challenging in a very difficult economy but they still need to have consistent expectations to ensure their child’s academic success. When schools call home and inquire why a student went on vacation in October versus the summer time, it can cause tension between the parents and the school. Parents may have only been able to schedule it then, or the prices were cheaper. We all know hotels and airlines  jack up the costs during school vacation time. School Administrators do understand this, but we have to hold the students accountable for their education. This is where dialogue between the two parties is critical.

Students also do become physically and mentally ill, and schools are required to call home and check on those types of absences as well. How many times can an adult miss work for illnesses before they get fired? We need to teach students how to deal with some of their issues to build these skills for later in life. If it’s serious, document the days missed with medical notes, and we will work together to get the student caught up. Again, it needs to be within reason. How many notes could you give your boss or college professor?

So what do we do to improve student attendance? From my experience, it takes a collaborative effort from all parties to do this. No one person can have a significant impact. It starts with communication and expectations that need to be followed through with and consistent consequences if these are not met. I believe you must always use rewards and consequences for positive and negative behaviors. An example of this is excellent attendance rewards like no homework passes, free school lunch passes, lunch with the principal, school-wide attendance celebrations, attendance awards, etc. The consequences should be progressive, fair, and consistent. Verbal warnings, detentions, Saturday School, loss of privileges, etc.

The schools and parents need to be on the same page with these expectations to have optimal success. Habits and expectations all start at younger ages, so it is critical that elementary and middle schools follow strict attendance procedures to prevent a snowball effect in high school. School administrators know there will be some push back but need to stand firm because it is only going to be in the best interest of the students. If we buckle every time someone doesn’t agree with the policies or procedures, it will most definitely end up hurting the students in the long run when they are lacking these skills later in life. Doing the right thing can often be the hardest thing to do and also follow through with.

For more information on attendance, please visit this awesome website ATTENDANCE WORKS  http://www.attendanceworks.org/

How Much Homework Is Too Much?

homework

Homework: What a giant issue that has been such a hot topic and such often a heated debate. I decided I wanted to try to tackle this MONSTAH, (Boston version). Why did I choose to write about a contentious issue? Because people need to look at the data before they pass judgment, and this data should be used to benefit student learning. I have enjoyed discussing this topic with several colleagues over my twenty something years in education and have changed my viewpoints as a result of looking at relevant data and the proverbial “Big Picture.”

So the most frequent questions I have heard are; Why is homework needed, does homework improve learning, what does quality/relevant homework look like, and how much homework is too much? The positive aspects of homework are it can help students learn responsibility, practice skills learned in class to help maximize learning, students learn to use more resources like reference materials, the internet, and libraries. Homework can also help students become more independent when they work on assignments on their own. Parents can become more involved in their child’s education by helping them with homework assignments and also seeing what they are learning in school. These are some of the positive aspects of homework.

There have been several studies on the efficacy of homework and most state that at younger ages, homework does not show a definite correlation between the homework and improved test scores or improved academic achievement. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/high-school-homework-are-_n_1071973.html Homework used in middle and high school has proven to have some positive impacts on learning as long as it was meaningful and relevant. http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/research.htm What does relevant homework look like? From my experience and what I have read, it should be based on skill development and not just memorizing content. Marzano has some great examples of relevant work in his instructional strategies document  http://www.palmbeachschools.org/qa/documents/Handout5-MarzanoHighYieldStrategies.pdf The NEA (National Education Association) created some recommendations for assigning homework. It basically stated that a student should receive no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level a night. An example is, an eighth grader would have no more than 80 minutes assigned in a night. This is tough to measure and police in a school, but it helps establish some kind of a norm for homework. This might also help educators understand how much homework is too much.

What is the negative impact of too much homework? I believe students need to go outside and play, be active, and socialize with their friends and family. Excessive homework can stunt a student’s growth in these areas. We want students to develop in many different areas not just in rote memorization. Also, is the homework equitable? What if several students don’t have the support at home to help with their homework while others do? Will this homework be graded? A family of well-educated parents certainly have an edge over those without, but all students are held accountable for the same graded homework. Something to think about! Should the majority of homework assignments even be graded or is it more about the effort in the process of completing it? If a student doesn’t understand the homework, won’t they just be performing the same imperfect tasks over and over which can be detrimental? Wouldn’t it be beneficial for the homework assignment to be based on areas that need work from class that a teacher noticed during some kind of formative assessment? What if the teacher also provided a link on their web page to help them work through the problems, material, or skills? Just a thought!

Does excessive homework prevent students from enjoying school because they feel overwhelmed, and is any of this adding to the excessive mental health issues we are seeing in our schools today? I would say it might play a role. Students definitely have a lot on their plate which is fine as long as we all know how to take some off when they are getting full. Did you know the US gives more homework than almost any other country in the world, but our test scores are not as high as say Japan and Finland? More doesn’t always mean better.

So, to wrap this up, I have learned that balance is the key to success in education, and we want to help students learn by using many educational sources and strategies. I feel homework has its place and can be beneficial if it improves skills that will translate to real-life learning.  I suggest using more technology and project based learning where students take the skills they learned into application. We want students to enjoy education and have fun in the process while also understanding that they must work hard and show responsibility. That balance word again!

Assistant Principal’s Corner #4

AP rocks

With November already upon us and students receiving their report cards for the first grading term, I wanted to touch upon the importance of effort and support. What steps should we take to help students reach their full academic potential in schools? We often start panicking when a student doesn’t do well and sometimes even point fingers in many directions. So who is responsible? I would argue many people, starting with the student. My first questions are always how hard have you worked in your classes and did you seek out extra help from your teachers? Can you believe I actually expect high school students to be in charge of their own personal growth? Such a draconian idea! Next is the teacher’s responsibility of providing engaging, fun, rigorous, and relevant instruction that meets the needs of all their students. Sounds easy, but I assure you it isn’t.  Great teaching is an art and takes many years to perfect. Having teachers discuss what is working and what is not with peers is invaluable and in turn will help provide students with quality lessons. No two students learn exactly the same, so differentiating materials is also a must in most classes http://ascd.org/publications/books/108028.aspx

Where do the parents fit into this equation? This is such an important part of the student’s success in school. Parents/guardians have a very difficult job raising children in a society that is sometimes overly demanding. This is why they need to partner with schools to help improve academic, social, behavioral, and emotional success for their child. I firmly believe it is in everyone’s best interest to improve respect in schools. The parents need to see teachers as professionals that have spent many years obtaining educational degrees, so they can provide quality teaching to their children. With that said, I am not suggesting it is a perfect system, but it can always improve with appropriate dialogue.

Now for the administration. Another equally important role in student achievement. There is a delicate balance that must be achieved between all parties involved, and a good administrator helps facilitate these discussions and provides guidance and feedback when they stall. Our decisions must always be in the best interest of the student even if they are sometimes unfavorable. The administration must make these decisions using common sense, experience, integrity, and in collaboration with several teachers, counselors, and other administrators.

So what to do when a student struggles? Take a look at the big picture, ask what skills do they need to be successful, what steps have been taken, and what interventions need to be in place to help rectify the situation? Too often the answer is pull them from class or lower the expectations, but is that really going to be in the students best interest down the road? Will they have the necessary skills for college and career readiness? Is the grade the most important thing or is it the mastery of content and the process of learning? My belief is most students should remain in a challenging class with some students needing to make changes in order to have success.

What ever decision is made, it is important that students, parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators are all on the same page. What good is it if a student graduates with decent grades and a diploma only to take remedial courses in college because they weren’t challenged enough or were able to quit every time it became tough?

There is nothing more gratifying than watching students succeed and grow as young adults but it takes many hands to lift them to success.