Wednesday night, Superintendent James A. Williams told the Board of Education that 3,000 students who are enrolled in city schools haven't shown up for class. Last week, I read about the Buffalo public school eighth-graders whose math scores had declined. Both made me think about how important daily school attendance is to the academic achievement of our at-risk urban schoolchildren. Sadly, I thought about the attendance teachers who are no longer in the Buffalo schools.
The Buffalo schools recently laid off all of the attendance faculty. The downsizing of attendance teachers and the abolishing of the Attendance Department had begun two years ago. Overall, the district has been chopping at the attendance faculty the last five years, from a high of 35 teachers to two today.
And we still ask ourselves why Johnny can't read? Why there is an escalation of youth crimes in Buffalo streets? Why our kids earn the lowest test scores? Well, folks, Johnny is not in school, it is as simple as that.
I think back to the time I worked as an attendance teacher in an elementary school in Buffalo with a high absenteeism rate among the eighth-graders and my own efforts to curtail the problem. I saw the effects of the work of an attendance teacher during the eighth-grade graduation ceremonies, when the truants that I personally monitored graduated.
The students in our district deserve to be afforded educational opportunities, but they must be in school on a daily basis to take advantage of them.
Each school year, thousands of students do not return to school who are supposed to from the previous year; they are called the summer non-returns. In the first two months of school, the attendance teachers work to bring these children back to the classroom. That didn't happen this year.
Sadly, if they are not tracked early, many of these students fall further behind academically or eventually drop out. Eighth-graders are overly represented in the summer non-return students.
Equally as distressing, a professional cadre of attendance teachers are being paid for sitting at home instead of working with the district to ensure the school attendance of these at-risk students.
As a veteran eighth-year attendance teacher, I know for a fact that our presence in the school buildings deters truancy and has a positive impact on the academic achievement of the students.
Unless the issue of daily school attendance is seen as related to improvement in student test scores, low academic achievement will continue to escalate. This will trigger the decline of public school education.
Attendance teachers do make a difference. Our kids need to be in school. Our eighth-graders have the ability to do much better than what the test scores show, but they need to be in school daily. By eliminating the attendance faculty this year, the message the kids are getting is school attendance is not important in the Buffalo Public Schools nor is an education. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Maria Rosa is a laid-off attendance teacher. She lives in Buffalo.