Would “nudge” letters improve attendance in your school?


Would “nudge” letters improve attendance in your school?

Is your kid absent more than classmates? School ‘nudge’ letters tell parents just how much. By Neal Morton

 In Tacoma, Washington and 16 other cities across the nation, school districts are boosting student attendance by sending home what they call “nudge” letters when students miss too many days of school. The nudge letters include a tally of a student’s absences — a number that research shows parents usually underestimate. Under that, the letters also provide the absence average for the school and for the child’s grade level across the district.

The idea was dreamed up by Todd Rogers, a behavioral scientist and former Democratic pollster, and studies done in Chicago, San Mateo, Calif., and Philadelphia have shown the letters can reduce chronic absenteeism rates by 11-15 percent.

After just one round of letters at Lister Elementary in Tacoma, Washington, attendance improved for 62 percent of the students who received them. And the gains persisted after a second round, persuading district leaders to expand the effort to every campus this school year. A number of other area districts are considering using nudge letters, too, including Seattle Public Schools.

In Tacoma this school year, the letters already are helping students like 10-year-old Brooke Bouton, whose family received one of the 5,000 nudge letters that officials sent in their first districtwide mailing in December.

“I knew it was coming,” her mother, Tina Bouton, admitted recently.

Brooke loved her school, Manitou Park Elementary, and her teacher. But transportation problems at home made it difficult for Brooke to get to class on time — or at all.

“It’s complicated,” Tina Bouton said. “Between (Brooke’s) dad and me, he leaves before school for work, and I don’t have a car.”

The family lives too close to the school for Brooke to qualify for bus transportation, and her mother, who often works in the morning, would not allow Brooke to walk alone to school, saying it’s not the safest area. But Tina Bouton hadn’t really faced the problem until she got the nudge letter.

The day after it arrived, she marched into the school, and asked for help.

The letter, she said, was “a wake-up call.”

Across Washington, about 16 percent of public-school students were chronically absent during the 2014-15 school year, the latest data available.

That means they missed at least 10 percent of the school year, or 18 days, an average of about two absences a month.

In Tacoma, the chronic absenteeism rate was 22.8 percent in 2014-15, up from 19.5 percent in 2012-13.

The increase, combined with news that Washington schools had some of the highest chronic absenteeism rates in the country, prompted district officials to pay more attention to attendance.

The state also has made attendance a priority: In its plan to comply with a new federal education law, Washington will track schools with high rates of chronic absenteeism.

Whether absences are excused or unexcused, a growing number of studies show that they hurt student achievement more than parents might guess. Students with a history of poor attendance are more likely to repeat a grade and tend to fall behind their peers in third-grade reading. By middle and high school, they also are more likely to fail courses and are less likely to graduate on time, if at all.

It’s no surprise that missing a lot of school hurts achievement. But new research shows even just one or two absences a month make a big difference.

Rogers, the pollster-turned-education researcher, stresses that nudge letters alone won’t make absences disappear, but his research suggests they’re a strong starting point.

“The idea is it’s insanely cost-effective and easy to implement,” he said. “It doesn’t require any teachers or schools to change what they’re doing, and that’s the sweet spot.”

“How do we mobilize and empower families to support student achievement … with scalable interventions?” Rogers said. “That’s the big picture for us.”

Rogers also found a spillover effect, with attendance improving for siblings of students targeted by the mailing. The effort took more than one letter — the families received up to five throughout the experiment. And even with the multiple reminders, attendance dropped off again two to six weeks after each mailing. But then the next letter, Rogers said, would create a new “attendance shock.”

Tacoma schools send their letters once every quarter.

In total, the Philadelphia experiment cost about $5.50 per household, compared to much costlier interventions like hiring a social worker or mentor.

Like other researchers, Rogers believes that parents tend to underestimate — or forget — how much their children miss school.

“Getting this discrete, actionable information to parents increases student achievement,” he said. “And parents want more of it once they get it.”

Kate Frazier was the principal of Lister Elementary last year, when the Tacoma pilot program began. And after the first batch of nudge letters went out in January 2016, she said the phone started ringing. Some parents were upset; others confused. A third group, however, called to discuss what they could do to fix the problem.

“That’s exactly what we were hoping for,” Frazier said.

Those calls offered school staff and parents a chance to talk about why students were missing so much school. Whether students feared a bully, were ill or families were having car troubles, the nudge letters sparked a conversation that sometimes led to a solution.

“I felt it really opened the doors to our school,” she said.

As for Brooke, at Manitou Park, her mother’s trip to the school led to a plan that works for her family, and gets her to school on time.

Now Brooke’s mom or older sibling drops Brooke off an hour before classes start and, while she waits for the bell, Brooke works as a hallway monitor.

Brooke likes that job so much she pushes her mom even harder to get her to school.

“Oh, it makes her feel so important,” her mother said. “She hasn’t really missed school at all since then.

“In the mornings, she’s the one telling me now that she’s going to be late and we have to hurry,” she added. “I’m all like, ‘I am hurrying!’ and she says, ‘Hurrying isn’t fast enough!’ ”

For the past two months, Brooke has had near perfect attendance.


Paying Wealthy Parents to Send Their Children to Private School

A bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives.

It will hurt public schools because a state can decide if any money should be given to public schools, charters or religious schools. It will also allow a “portion of the funds” to be given to parents who home school their children or sent them to private schools.  Home school parents spend little money and the amount of money given to parents for private school would not be enough to pay all or most of the tuition. This, in reality would subsidize wealthy families sending their children to private schools.

See “ The No Hungry Kids Act” (last paragraph)This should read the Unhealthy Hungry Kids Act.  It would remove “healthy  food” from schools.

Shown Here:
Introduced in House (01/23/2017)

Choices in Education Act of 2017

This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and limits the authority of the Department of Education (ED) such that ED is authorized only to award block grants to qualified states.

The bill establishes an education voucher program, through which each state shall distribute block grant funds among local educational agencies (LEAs) based on the number of eligible children within each LEA’s geographical area. From these amounts, each LEA shall: (1) distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child, and (2) do so in a manner that ensures that such payments will be used for appropriate educational expenses.

To be eligible to receive a block grant, a state must: (1) comply with education voucher program requirements, and (2) make it lawful for parents of an eligible child to elect to enroll their child in any public or private elementary or secondary school in the state or to home-school their child.

No Hungry Kids Act

The bill repeals a specified rule that established certain nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs. (In general, the rule requires schools to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat free milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat in school meals; and meet children’s nutritional needs within their caloric requirements.)


Kansas Spending on Its Schools Supreme Court Says is Too Low

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Black, Hispanic and poor students were especially harmed by the lack of funding, pointing to low test scores and poor graduation rates. The court ruled that the Legislature had failed to equitably fund public schools citing “intolerable and simply unfair, wealth-based disparities among the districts.”.  The justices set a June 30 deadline for the legislature to pass a new funding plan. Failure to find additional funding would cause a court-ordered shutdown of schools. This fight has been going on since 2014.

The court did not say how much money was needed. Fellow Republicans in the state legislature passed a bill that would have increased taxes. Governor Brownback vetoed it. Mr. Brownback has made deep tax cuts both in 2012 & 2013.  Mr. Brownback criticized the ruling stating, “It is unfortunate that the Kansas Supreme Court has put the education of Kansas students at risk.” Since Mr. Brownback took office state aid has declined to $3,800 per pupil from $4400.  Because of the cuts some rural districts have disbanded, some schools have closed and six districts ended the school year early.

The state legislature has threatened to suspend all funding for the courts.

Children and their education are being used as pawns by the Governor and the State Legislature. You decide, who has put the Kansas students at risk – the governor or the Supreme Court?


Auburn University 7th Annual Anti-Bullying Summit

Auburn University 7th Annual Anti-Bullying Summit

I will be presenting a workshop at Auburn University’s 7th Annual Anti-Bullying Summit to be held at the Wyndham Hotel and Conference Center at Peachtree City from June 21-22, 2017.

Last year I was awarded Auburn University’s Hero Award for the work I did in reducing school dropouts, bullying prevention and improving alternative education.


Happy Holidays

No matter how you celebrate during this holiday season, I wish you, your family and loved ones a happy holiday and a glorious New Year. May the New Year, bring us all, a year of peace, prosperity and happiness.

Like many of you, I will be taking a break and will see you in the New Year.

Franklin Schargel



Who Speaks For the Children? Not the Politicians or Voters

From the New York Times (11/13/2016) “Politicians and voters often say they want better schools, but that doesn’t mean they are willing to pay for them.”

On Election Day,voters rejected attempts to increase school spending. In 23 states, formular funding – the main type of state funding for K-12 grades, the current funding is lower than in 2008, adjusted for inflation and the growing numbers of students. In seven of the 23 states (Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin) legislators have cut income taxes in recent years by “tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Only in Maine where voters backed a tax surcharge on annual income in excess of $200,000. In Oregon,a proposed business tax increase to help pay for schools failed.

Obviously, “putting your money where your mouth is” has no meaning for politicians and voters in 23 states.


Happy Birthday, Website

None years ago, on December 15, 2007 this website “went live” I was unsure who, if anyone, would be interested in hearing what was on it.

As of today, there have been 485,000 visits, 250,000 are unique (first time visitor), averaging 100-200 a week, 1500-3000 a month. I continue to post two-three times a week and now have over 1250 articles on line.

Visitors are from around the world. Obviously, school dropouts are a global problem. Most people are interested in the 15 Effective Strategies, followed by the Advantages of Alternative Education.

I have been called upon to deliver workshops in 49 of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, and Israel.

I would like to thank you, the visitor, for your suggestions and feedback. I will take  your words of advice seriously.


2015’s States With The Highest and Lowest Dropout Rate compared the quality of education in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia by analyzing 13 key metrics that range from student-teacher ratios, through dropout rates.

According to the study the 2015 States with the:

 Lowest Dropout Rate

  1. Iowa
  2. Nebraska/Texas/North Dakota/New Jersey/Wisconsin

Highest Dropout Rate

  1. Alaska
  2. Georgia
  3. Nevada
  4. New Mexico
  5. Oregon
  6. District of Columbia

What are the commonalities? It is not the cost per pupil because Washington DC spends more money than any state. Is it the percentage of minorities? While New Mexico has a high number of minorities, Oregon does not. 


2015’s States With The Highest and Lowest Pupil-Teacher Ratio compared the quality of education in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia by analyzing 13 key metrics that range from student-teacher ratios, through dropout rates.

According to the study the 2015 States with the:

 Lowest Pupil-Teacher Ratio

  1. Vermont
  2. North Dakota
  3. Kansas
  4. Maine
  5. New Jersey

Highest Pupil- Teacher Ratio

  1. Nevada
  2. Oregon
  3. Arizona
  4. Utah
  5. California



2015’s States With The Highest and Lowest SAT Scores compared the quality of education in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia by analyzing 13 key metrics that range from student-teacher ratios, through dropout rates.

According to the study the 2015 States with the:

The Highest Average SAT Score

  1. North Dakota
  2. Illinois
  3. Iowa
  4. South Dakota
  5. Minnesota

Lowest Average SAT Score

  1. Texas
  2. Maine
  3. Idaho
  4. Delaware
  5. District of Columbia



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