DOE phone home

City takes to the phones in battle against chronic absenteeism

Last year, the city launched a campaign to reduce absenteeism with a letter home. Today, it’s following up with a phone call.

Students from 25 schools who have missed 10 or more days this year will soon start receiving early-morning wake-up calls from celebrities such as Magic Johnson and the rapper Big Boi, the city announced today. The calls, which city officials say will eventually be made to frequently absent students in all schools, mark the second phase in the city’s push to boost attendance.

The first phase, which launched in August, marshaled resources from across city agencies to target the most frequently truant students at the 25 schools. Extreme absenteeism is down at those schools, the city said today.

The attendance initiatives follow a 2009 report by Center for New York City researchers that revealed that the city’s 91 percent average attendance rate masks chronic absenteeism among a fifth of students.

The pitfalls of tardiness are explored in two pieces in the GothamSchools Community section today, coincidentally enough. Collin Lawrence, a former teacher who has been recounting his four years working at a small high school in Brooklyn, writes that no one seemed to care that few students got to school when it started.

And launching a new column, Bronx high school college counselor Brendan Lowe describes waking up at 5:30 a.m. last month to call students scheduled to take the SAT.

Lowe writes:

Crazy? Perhaps. Did we help our students? In a short-term sense, absolutely. Last year, 40 of 59 students (67 percent) failed to show up for their first sitting of the SAT, thereby wasting one of two possible fee waivers. This year, 57 of 60 students — 95 percent — actually took the test.

The city’s complete press release is below:

MAYOR BLOOMBERG LAUNCHES WAKE UP! NYC CAMPAIGN TO REDUCE CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM AND TRUANCY IN CITY SCHOOLS AND RELEASES EARLY DATA FROM TRUANCY PROGRAM

Magic Johnson, Jose Reyes, Trey Songz, Big Boi, Jesse McCartney, SchoolMessenger, Viacom, Hot 97 FM, KISS Radio and Others Join Mayor’s Campaign To Reduce Truancy

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today launched the City’s first multimedia campaign to reduce truancy and chronic absenteeism in City schools. The campaign, called WakeUp! NYC was developed by the Mayor’s Interagency Task Force on Truancy and Chronic Absenteeism, led by John Feinblatt, the Mayor’s Chief Policy Advisor. The WakeUp! NYC campaign will begin next week with automated phone calls to students in a core group of 25 schools with principals who have volunteered to participate in the Task Force’s work this year, and then expand chronically absent students citywide. Campaign partners including Viacom and their BET Networks division, 98.7 KISS FM, Hot 97 FM and 101.9 RXP FM will also encourage school attendance every day on-air and through social media. Through WakeUp! NYC, students will receive phone calls with pre-recorded morning wake up messages from Magic Johnson, Jose Reyes, Big Boi, Terrence J and Rocsi, from BET’s 106 & Park and award-winning artist Trey Songz as well as other celebrities from program partners Viacom. The Mayor also announced early results from the truancy program for the first half of the school year, which showed improvements in many schools.

“Through WakeUp! NYC we’re putting on a full-court press, using mass media and digital media to drive home the point that every student should be in school every day,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “It’s the next step in our efforts to cut absenteeism and put more students on the road to success, in school and in life.”

“We believe strongly in the power of media and entertainment to address social issues facing our country,” said Viacom Chief Operating Officer Tom Dooley. “Ensuring that our country’s young people have the education they need to succeed is critical to the future of New York City and the future of this country.  But you can’t learn if you don’t come to school.  That’s why Viacom and the Get Schooled Foundation are excited to support Mayor Bloomberg’s Wake Up! NYC campaign.”

“We want all of our students to excel and become successful adults, and good attendance will help them reach that goal,” Schools Chancellor Cathie Black said. “We are working hard to reduce chronic absenteeism, and thanks to the Mayor’s Task Force, we have seen a significant drop in chronic absenteeism at the Isaac Newton Middle School. We know we have a long way to go, but this is a good start.”

“We are focusing largely on students in elementary and middle school because absenteeism in those grades is predictive of school failure and drop out,” said John Feinblatt, the Mayor’s Chief Policy Advisor, who oversees the Mayor’s Task Force. “Research shows that if we can change attendance patterns in those years, we will reduce high school drop out rates, and produce better educational outcomes.  And if we don’t deal with the problem now, we’ll be stuck dealing with much worse problems in crime, government dependency and poverty.”

“The WakeUp! NYC campaign will help educate students and parents about the importance of attendance every day and the dangers of chronic absenteeism for school, and life, success,” said Leslie Cornfeld, chair of the Mayor’s Task Force.  “Our media partners in this campaign will help us generate a new awareness about the importance of school everyday –amplifying the impact of the many new, multiagency strategies the Task Force is piloting at our schools and elsewhere this year.”

The Mayor was joined at the announcement, held at Isaac Newton Middle School in Manhattan, by Chief Policy Advisor John Feinblatt, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black, Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond, Task Force Chair Leslie Cornfeld, NYC Service Chief Service Officer Diahann Billings-Burford, Administration for Children’s Services Assistant Commissioner Dale P. Joseph,  Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Assistant Commissioner for School Health Roger Platt, Department of Youth and Community Development Assistant Commissioner William Chong, and Isaac Newton Middle School Principal Lisa Nelson.

The Mayor was also joined by media partners including Viacom Chief Operating Officer Tom Dooley; Emmis Communications Community Outreach Director Reggie Nance; Jose Reyes; Terrence J and Rocsi, from BET’s top-rated 106 & Park show; and award-winning artist Trey Songz.

Wake Up! NYC Absence Alerts and Good News Calls

Through the WakeUp! NYC campaign, chronically absent students and students at-risk of becoming chronically absent will receive inspirational wake up phone calls to encourage them to attend school. The pre-recorded messages stress the connection between success in school and success in life, because research shows that children and parents too often fail to make the connection.

The WakeUp!NYC campaign will start next week when over 6,500 students at the 25 schools, who have missed 10 or more days of school this academic year, will receive a phone or email message inviting them to participate in the WakeUp!NYC campaign.  After this introductory period, the WakeUp! NYC campaign will expand to approximately 250,000 chronically absent students citywide.

The WakeUp! NYC campaign will also include “good news” calls to congratulate students for strong or improved attendance. Research suggests that celebrating improved attendance helps promote attendance.  Conversely, students whose chronic absenteeism does not improve, in addition to additional interventions by the Task Force, will receive telephone absence alerts notifying the student and parents about the serious nature of the student’s attendance patterns. The WakeUp! NYC telephone calls will be made through SchoolMessenger, a communications company focused on connecting schools and families, which has underwritten the cost of implementing the call campaign to all chronically absent students in NYC.

In addition, the WakeUp!NYC campaign’s media partners will run public service announcements and discuss the importance of attending school every day on their morning shows. The media partners will also mention WakeUp! NYC through social media and using testimonials from formerly chronically absent students and their parents, and will help the campaign spread the word about the importance of attendance every day.

“I am proud to be a part of this campaign,” said Magic Johnson, who recorded several messages as part of WakeUp! NYC.  “We need to do whatever it takes to let kids know that getting to school every day is the best way to succeed in school, and in life.”

“School really is a kids’ best hope for a better future.  But kids don’t get that these days, neither do parents,” said Jose Reyes, of the NY Mets. “I am ready to go tot bat for the Task Force’s Campaign, and do what I can to spread the word. This Campaign is what people need to really WakeUp about education and their future.”

“I want to help kids and parents realize that education is the best path to a good future,” said award-winning artist Trey Songz. “By joining forces with Get Schooled, I hope to use my fame as a positive influence and keep kids in school and out of the streets.”

“We are proud to partner with the Mayor in getting kids to school every day,” said Reggie Nance, Vice President of Emmis NY.  “Hot 97, and KISS FM are committed to spearheading this campaign on the air by spreading the word about WakeUp! NYC – so that all New Yorkers, students and parents alike, understand that school every day is the best way to a better future.  So, listen to us and hear what we are doing to help fix this problem for the future of our kids, and our City. Stay tuned.”

Early Data Show Preliminary Positive Results

The Mayor’s Task Force released its early results from the first half of the academic year, showing that the schools in its pilot program had reduced their rates of chronic absenteeism this year, as compared to last year.  At the Task Force’s ten elementary schools, chronic absenteeism was down by 24% over last year; at the Task Force’s eight middle schools, it was down by 16%.

Because students in temporary housing have above average rates of chronic absenteeism citywide, as part of it’s comprehensive strategy to reduce absenteeism, the Task Force also piloted a number of new initiatives at 15 of the City’s Tier II family shelters, including tracking attendance and chronic absenteeism bi-weekly, creating homework centers at all Tier II shelters citywide, creating new data sharing agreements between agencies, and creating a new culture of school success and attendance every day at the shelters.

“The Task Force initiative is changing the culture of attendance in Tier II shelters,” said Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond.  “We are pleased that the preliminary results of our work reflect attendance success among our shelter children.  Chronic absenteeism decreased at the pilot shelters from this year to last, and we also saw a lower rate of absenteeism in the pilot shelters than other similar Tier II shelters. By continuing the partnership of the Task Force, we can only make further progress for our children.”

“New York City has clearly become the national leader in developing innovative strategies to reduce truancy and chronic absenteeism,” said Dr. Robert Balfanz, research scientist at Johns Hopkins, and Task Force advisor. “The positive early outcomes seen today in reducing chronic absenteeism in New York City schools and shelters reflects the strength of the comprehensive strategies that the Task Force has implemented in a remarkably short period of time,”

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the Mayor’s Interagency Task Force on developing models leading the nation in reducing truancy and chronic absenteeism,” said Richard R. Buery, President and CEO, Children’s Aid Society. “The Task Force is demonstrating what outcomes are possible when data-driven strategies, citywide collaboration and unwavering energy for improving attendance and educational outcomes for our most at-risk students, are so successfully executed for the children of New York City. The work being done here should have the attention of every urban center and school system in the country.”

Task Force Tackles Pockets of Chronic Absenteeism

The Task Force, launched by the Mayor on June 10th of last year, has focused its first efforts on developing responses to early warning signals in a child’s early years – before truancy is an entrenched habit. About 20 percent of all City school students missed one month of school or more last year – totaling over 250,000 students. The Task Force has worked with a series of partners to develop incentives for attendance including Old Navy, Starbucks, Office Depot and NY Skyride, which donated tickets to their unique simulator inside the Empire State Building that provides a virtual tour of New York City.

Research shows that three out of four students who are severely chronically absent in the sixth grade never graduate from high school.  In New York City, approximately 80 percent of children in the juvenile justice system had missed a month or more of school; 40 percent had missed two or more months. Absenteeism rates are highest in low-income communities, where school offers students the best opportunity for future success.

Newsroom

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Spokane, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.