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  • Writer's pictureJim Mercer

SamTastic Weekly Tip: 6/10/24 - Summer Break and TimeTrack Contact Days

Today’s tip:  Summer Break and TimeTrack Contact Days

 

Your school district has likely set its calendar for the 2024-25 school year. Now is the perfect time to add this information in your TimeTrack. There are two steps:

 

  1. Go to the orange TimeTrack logo, upper left, select settings and contact days set-up. Starting with June, 2024, change to gray any day the leader is not required to work. Once you finish June, click set and advance. Repeat this process for each of the next twelve months making sure district holidays are gray. It is a great idea to label these days in the Note section, too.

  2. Double check that you’ve changed to gray days your leader will be on vacation, or using leave, this summer. This will make a significant difference in your time data as TimeTrack will not count days that have been switched to gray.


This is also an opportune time to update your staff list.  Go to the orange TimeTrack logo, upper left, select settings and individual/group set-up.  Start by deactivating staff members who have retired/left your school or district.  Then, add in new hires.  Finally, go the Groups tab and check that the membership in each is correct.

 

Your Time Change Coach is looking forward to starting work with you again in August with the release of the new TimeTrack.  All data will transfer automatically.  It is very cool and easy to use.  Current users will not need help navigating/using the new TimeTrack.  For new features and functionality, we will provide short videos, online session options and recordings.  You will find that using the new TimeTrack, after using the current, is the same as using a new iPhone when you have an older model.  Easy.  The new TimeTrack has been a long time coming.  I believe you will find it was worth the wait. 

 

Finally, early reports on student attendance nationally show improvement again this year.  Did you see improvement in your attendance data?  I thought you might enjoy the article, below, concerning the shift in student attendance.  You likely know March 11, 2020, was the fourth anniversary of the official start of the covid pandemic.  The pandemic, and our attempts to limit its destructive spread, are frequently cited as the cause for most problems in schools and society, including poor student attendance.   If you are reflective when looking at the data, it becomes clear that the cause is far more complex.  I thought you might enjoy the article, below, by New York Times writer David Wallace-Wells.


Why Children Are Missing More School Now

New York Times, June 5, 2024
By David Wallace-Wells

The raw data looks inarguably bad: The share of American children missing at least 10 percent of school days nearly doubled over the course of the pandemic, leaving perhaps more than six million more students “chronically absent” than had been in the 2018-19 school year.


And this spring, as we trudged into our fifth year with Covid, the absenteeism crisis succeeded pandemic learning loss and the mental health of teenagers as a new touchstone in what are now years-long arguments about the wisdom of school closings in 2020 and 2021. Almost everything about school performance and the well-being of children and adolescents now seems to orbit the duration of remote learning in one school year, which lives on years later as the gravitational center of our retrospective universe. But before the link between those closings and absenteeism hardens into a new conventional wisdom, I want to offer a few notes of additional context, which together suggest, I think, that we are doing ourselves a disservice by fashioning every aftereffect of those years into a weapon to be used in an ideological crusade.


First, as it was with learning loss, chronic absenteeism does not appear to be a uniquely American problem arising from the specific way we handled school closings during the pandemic but something of a global phenomenon. It can be seen almost everywhere you look, in the aftermath of Covid, including a lot of places that took quite different approaches to school during the pandemic.


How can I say that? The most recent available national numbers show that 26 percent of American students missed at least 10 percent of school in 2022-23. In Sweden, reports from the National Agency for Education showed considerable increases in student absences across the first two years of the pandemic. In Britain, chronic absenteeism jumped from 11.7 percent of children before the pandemic to 23.5 percent in 2022-23. In Belgium, the problem has grown by 90 percent, and in New Zealand, more than 45 percent of children missed at least 10 percent of school days. In Japan, where schools reopened for good in June 2020, there had never been a year in the prior decade when more than 300,000 children registered “prolonged absence,” and most years in the 2010s the number hovered around 200,000. In 2021, it crossed 400,000, and in 2022, 450,000.


Looks pretty modest — perhaps one slice of the story, but only one slice of it. In a high-profile study published in January, Stanford’s Thomas Dee found that the length of remote schooling at the state level explained only about 20 percent of the variation in increased absenteeism. In another paper published the same month by the American Enterprise Institute, Nat Malkus crunched the numbers at the district level and found a slightly smaller relationship: Chronic absenteeism in those districts with the most in-person schooling grew by 12 percentage points, while in those with the most remote schooling, rates had grown by 14 percentage points; in the districts in between, the rates had grown by 13 percentage points. The differences, in other words, were negligible, especially given the large increases observed everywhere. When The Times updated some of his analysis, Malkus summarized it like this: “The problem got worse for everybody in the same proportional way.”


Malkus believes that absenteeism is the biggest problem facing American schools today, but he’s quite firm that we shouldn’t see in those numbers a morality play about remote learning. “If I could have drawn a neat line between the two data sets — school closures and chronic absenteeism — I would have. But I can’t,” he told me. “The districts that were closed longer do have a marginally higher problem. But how much of the difference does it explain? Not very much.”


Dee believes school closings played a somewhat larger role but also describes the phenomenon as a “multiheaded hydra,” tied up in many of the other social and psychological impacts of living through Covid. “Clearly, the growth in chronic absenteeism does not have a monocausal explanation — it wasn’t just school closure,” he said. “And I do worry a little bit that this discourse is bringing a culture war frame to the challenges we face.”


How big a challenge is it? This is the third piece of context I would emphasize: The spike in chronic absenteeism is real and therefore concerning, but using it as our only measure of school attendance may skew our impression of the story somewhat. In New York City, the largest school district in the country, overall school attendance fell between 2019 and 2023 from 91.5 percent in 2018-19 to 89.4 percent in 2022-23, even though rates of chronic absenteeism grew far more significantly. The pattern is similar in other places where granular attendance information is available: In Boston, the largest district in Massachusetts, for instance, and across Connecticut, which has especially accessible data, chronic absenteeism ballooned while overall attendance rates dropped by only a few percentage points.


How can both things be true? The explanation put forth by Jennifer Jennings, a sociologist who studies education at Princeton, is that school attendance follows a bell curve; that before the pandemic the threshold for “chronic absence” was already set at a pretty fat place of that curve, which meant that many students were identified as chronically absent and many others were just above the cutoff. So even a small shift in total attendance patterns could push a lot more students into that category. This is not to say the growth in absenteeism is trivial — a drop of a few percentage points across a large school system implies a lot of additional missed days — only that it probably doesn’t describe a huge spike in the percentage of children who show up for school only sporadically. More likely, the pattern reflects a bunch of students who five years ago might have missed 16 days of school in a given year, say, now missing 20.


This explains only about one-fifth of the variation in absenteeism, what about the other four-fifths? Prepandemic patterns of absenteeism seem to be playing a role, as do rates of poverty and local educational attainment. Researchers tend to cite a bundle of other factors as well, including logistical disruptions, both on the family side and the school side, and mental health issues, including increased rates of anxiety and what’s been called “emotionally based school avoidance.” Some also suggest old-fashioned increases in truancy, though high school graduation rates have not fallen but have improved overall in the past few years, or families growing more comfortable taking their children out of school for trips or days off.


But when my colleague Sarah Mervosh, recounting her reporting on chronic absenteeism on The Daily, was asked what was driving the spike, she answered, “probably the most universally shared reason that you’ll hear is just illness.” And although C.D.C. survey data isn’t perfect, what it shows is quite striking: The number of children who reported missing at least 15 days of school the previous year because of illness nearly doubled between 2019 and 2022. Nationally, there have been two to three times as many hospitalizations for respiratory viruses among children in the past two years as in the year before the pandemic, according to C.D.C. data, though those increases may also reflect increased patterns of testing alongside increased rates of illness. In New York City, the share of teachers who missed at least 11 days of school grew almost 50 percent between 2019 and 2023, too, and, in some places, teachers who have exhausted their allotment of paid sick leave are routinely taking unpaid leave now.


But sickness doesn’t happen in a clinical vacuum, and the past few years may have marked a post-pandemic culture shift in how we relate to illness — that in the aftermath of the pandemic, there has been a subtler and more widespread change in mores around infections and exposure, with daily school attendance seeming less urgent and obligatory than it did before the pandemic, and the need to keep sick children home to prevent them from spreading bugs to others perhaps more urgent. In other words, it may be the case that across the country, American children and their parents have simultaneously grown less conscientious about schooling and more conscientious about health. If the size of that effect is about two percentage points of daily attendance, is that necessarily an overcorrection? If so, how large an overcorrection? And it is probably notable, in this context, that at least in New York City, the largest increases in absenteeism have been among the youngest students, who are much less likely to be making decisions about attendance themselves.


Many of the researchers looking most closely at the surge in absenteeism worry that it represents a new normal. But on that point the story looks somewhat T.B.D. to me. Nearly every state experienced declines in rates of absenteeism in 2022-23, though the changes were typically small, leaving rates still well above prepandemic levels. And although the data we have for 2023-24 is still quite patchy, it suggests the possibility of accelerating improvement. In Massachusetts, for instance, rates of absenteeism have this year dropped down closer to 2020-21 levels. While that means they are still above prepandemic patterns, the improvement suggests that at least in New England — both more wealthy and more well-run than average — a return to the old normal may not be all that far-off.


In the meantime, it does tell us a few things about all the ways we are continuing to misperceive and misunderstand our collective experience of the pandemic and its legacy. First, much of what Americans are now retrospectively processing as frustrations and failings peculiar to this country were actually near universal features of the Covid experience. Second, much of the turmoil we now want to chalk up to pandemic policy, perhaps to pin the blame for it on some accountable authority or modifiable ideology, was instead either the direct result of the disease itself or a human response so common that it is hard to find a place in the world that managed to sidestep it. And sometimes we seem to be pinning problems on Covid policies that hardly seem related to the pandemic at all: Last month, commentators considering a worrying rise in drowning deaths among American children tried to connect them to lockdowns and interruptions to swim instruction. But between 2019 and 2022, the largest absolute increases in the rate of drowning deaths have been among children under the age of 4, most of whom had not yet been born during the closings phase of the pandemic, and those over age 85, whose swimming skills were most likely not affected by pool closings in the summer of 2020. That’s not to say it isn’t bad that more people are drowning, only that we don’t solve the problem — or help ourselves see it clearly — by intoning “school closings” over and over whenever we come across a distressing fact about our post-pandemic lives. Most of these stories, it turns out, are complicated.

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