A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 03 2009

An Attendance Heat Map

In the past, I’ve talked about the power of visualizations.  I think there is so much that a simple image can convey that mere words can’t.  I don’t have a box and whisker plot today, but I have a stunningly-simple “heat map” that gives you an idea of the pervasive attendance problem in my classroom (and, transitively, at my school).  I like to convert my trackers into visual heat maps because I can immediately grasp the visual trends and patterns.

After the jump, I present my attendance tracker (blurred-for-confidentiality-reasons) for three classes and one homeroom for the week of October 26-October 29.

Each pink/red square represents an absence for a day.  The black shaded vertical lines are Friday (we didn’t have class).

What stands out more, absences or presences?  Fun fact: in the Thursday column of the 3rd section, there are 21 pink squares and 5 white ones.

Although it is possible that my students genuinely dislike my teaching and specifically choose to skip my class, I suspect that this is more a “cultural” thing: being truant has become an accepted way of life among the student body.  No matter what the administration or the teaching staff do to alter this, students have created a culture at school where taking 30 minutes to transition from period to period or just skipping out altogether is considered okay.

Indeed, my school has one of the lowest attendance rates in the district (last I heard, we had an average daily attendance of ~65%).  Our goal this year is to raise that to 80%, but I am honestly struggling to imagine any solutions to this intractable and deeply damaging problem.

My school and DCPS schools are not alone on this issue (an example across the continent here, and one across the Atlantic here).

My question: how does one teach–and how does learning occur–when students don’t show up? Let’s give the next Broad Prize to the district that has the best strategy to tackle this issue.

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    Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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