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.

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”