Tag Archives: attendance

Attendance: Common Sense?

In my job, I am confronted almost daily with the need for common sense when we approach attendance.  The idea of attendance in an online school is a completely foreign concept for most people, and it was for me until several years ago when I jumped into teaching at an online school.  While at Wolf Creek Online High School, I participated in the development of attendance policies for the online world.

As I have worked in this now for several years, I have refined my thinking, have shared the concept around the state of Minnesota and in other states (most recently in Michigan – so fun!!!), and have started to think outside of the online world and into the seat-based world.

attendance pyramidSchool attendance is important, but we often go too far and lack common sense in our application of this value.  As one can conclude from the graphic to the left, I firmly believe in a correlation between school attendance and students passing their classes which eventually leads to graduation.  As this is the ultimate goal that schools presumably have for all of their students, it follows easily, then, that school attendance should be expected from all students.  But notice that, in addition to attendance, access to curriculum is also part of the pyramid. This is there because of my use of this pyramid in the online world.  Accessing curriculum is attendance in the online world.

But it is not in the seat-based world.

My latest and greatest question is this: WHY NOT?

With more and more schools using course management systems such as Moodle, BlackBoard, or Desire2Learn in order to house curriculum, lessons, and videos, accessing curriculum (which used to equate to the butt-in-seat of classroom) now can be done from a sick student’s bedroom while the student recovers from pneumonia.  This completely destroys the concept of seat-based attendance because accessing the curriculum is no longer dependent upon the student being in the classroom.

As options expand for accessing the curriculum, our definition of attendance and truancy will need to change.

And it should.

And when it does, horrible grievances against students will be avoided.

Within the past year, I have jumped into the Twitter world (mostly due to being able to disseminate my blog posts).  In that same time, I also read Think by Lisa Bloom and then followed her on Facebook and Twitter.  While she and I would likely disagree on some things (and we would both be ok with that as long as our stances can be clearly thought out and defended), she and I do agree on many things such as the need for literacy, the need for an emphasis on education, and the need for many to start thinking!

Last night, she shared a link on her Twitter-feed that sent me through the roof!

Click here to watch and read the news story about Diane Tran, the 11th grade honor student who was sent to jail for missing too much time in class.  Instead of dropping out to support herself when faced with a difficult situation, Tran chose to stay in school while also working a full-time job.

There are many questions that I have about this situation:

  1. Why is she supporting herself and two siblings?

  2. Why are her parents not involved?

  3. Why has no school social worker intervened and kept this student from going to court?

  4. Why has no one talked to this student about taking an online class instead of the first hour class that she often misses due to her life’s schedule?

  5. Why is she still getting good grades when she misses so much class?

There are solutions to the issue that did not need to involve the student paying a fine, going to jail, or even going to court!  The courts should be used when students and families are not able to cooperate with the school in a reasonable fashion.  They should not be used to punish honor students who are doing just fine in their classes even when they miss the classes.

I have said and will continue to say it: our system needs an overhaul to get it caught up with the times.  Our laws are still based on the education system of fifty years ago when schools did not even have fax machines.  The last revision of the truancy laws in Texas occurred in 2003; two years later, the Texas legislature passed the law allowing for virtual schools.  Like most other states across the nation, these two lines of thinking did not intersect.

But they need to do so.

Moving all of our schools to progress-based attendance will solve issues like that of the case of Diane Than.  She is but one student who has been caught in the cross-fire of attendance and truancy laws being outdated and poorly applied.  The intent of these laws are to engage all students in learning which would lead to successful lives.  When we lose of the intent of laws in the midst of applying them without common sense, we do the students of our nation a disservice.

This is why I do what I do.  I want to see these laws applied correctly to the students and families who need them.  And I want to see students and families to whom these laws no longer apply be freed from the shackles of old thinking.

What do you think?

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Parenting

Tangent: Drive-Truancy-Support Network

Oy vey!  I love to drive; I really do…but this month is hitting an extreme.  For my job as dean of students at an online school, I do a bit of traveling to attend court for students who are truant.  Today I am in Hibbing, MN.  Where is that?  Google it.  Next week, I will be in Thief River Falls, MN.  And the week after that, I will be in International Falls, MN – almost in Canada!  Fun stuff…and tiring.  I left my house this morning just after 6 a.m. (not on time, by the way), and I was thankful that my maps were correct in their estimation rather of how long it takes to get there.  Today is a long day.

How can a student be truant in an online school?

Great question!  It is the question that consumes most of my working (and lots of other) moments.

Being truant in an online school is easier than in a traditional school.  Do not be offended by this, but truancy in a traditional school can most easily be avoided by simply showing up.  The student does not have to do work. The student does not even  have to stay away.  If the student’s butt is in the seat, the student is in attendance.  In an online school, attendance is defined as the progress that a student makes.  This still does not ensure that the student will pass or do quality work, but I do believe that it is one step closer to a decent requirement over the butt in seat requirement.

libraryWhat are you up today? 

My office is the Hibbing Public Library. 

No cell phones!


I can honestly say that if you are not thinking about how you can be a part of student’s life, you should consider it.  Students need support networks.  Every student that goes to court has a situation that makes my heart sad.  I am not asking everyone to be everything for every kid.  I am asking you to consider how you can be part of a network…how you can be one part of a fence that goes around a kid to support success.  Maybe you are good at something…like encouraging the student to dream…

What do you think?  Who was your support network? How was that network important to where you are today?  What is the small thing you can do to be a part of something great?

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

Present Truth or Future Truth?

On a daily basis in my position of Dean of Students at Minnesota Virtual High School, I complete enrollment verification forms for my students. These forms are for a variety of reasons such as Social Security, county funding, or child support.  The forms ask two important questions:  1) is the student enrolled in school?  2) is the student in full-time attendance.

Most of the time, I can answer the first question positively; however, I often have answer negatively to the second.  Thankfully, the Social Security Administration is about to define full-time attendance for online schools, and this will give me something to lean on.  Right now, I have my own definition (I wrote the policy).

When I have to answer negatively to the second question, I make a phone call or send an email to the student or the parents to let them know exactly why I will not be able to complete the form for them.  This usually results in the student going to a different school that will allow them to receive their funding.  Sometimes, though, the student or parents try to negotiate with me.  In fact, they frequently beg me to “just sign the form.”  I do not think they realize that I can’t “just sign the form.” When I sign my name to something, it needs to mean something.

I have been in email conversation with an eighteen year old student who has spent so much time emailing me that I’m close to saying,”The amount of time you have spent emailing me could have been spent on a class!” This student’s most recent email promised that, if I would just sign the form, she would do some schoolwork this weekend. In her mind, simply saying that she is going to do work equals doing work.  What she doesn’t realize is that there is a difference between present truth and future truth. The forms are not asking me if the student will be in attendance.  The forms ask if the student has been or is in attendance.

There is a huge difference!

I literally complete twenty of these forms each week. I devote an entire day to the forms many weeks.  And I bemoan the fact that I am doing them.  I rant and rave about students who are simply enrolled in school to get their funding but who have no intention of ever completing their high school diploma.  I throw verbal fits about how these students need to get a clue, to wake up and smell the coffee, and to realize what life is all about.

Tonight I informed this student that I could sign her form only when what she promised to do became what she actually did.  As I hit send I realized that these students are just like me.

I, too, have many “future truth” moments. I will lose weight – in the future.  I will go to the gym – in the future.  I will quit drinking Coca-Cola – in the future. I will get more rest – in the future.  And each of those future truths seems like a present truth.  If I could just convince everyone else around me that this is true, maybe it would happen!

When I put aside my judgmental hat, I reallize that I am not that different than they are.  The only difference is just that I am better at pretending to be good at life than they are. I truly do have “my act” together…and they do not. Their flaws are simply more visible than my flaws are.


Filed under Uncategorized