We opened up feedback forms and polls about what practices you think are appropriate for improving attendance. Here's what you had to say.
Last week, Education Lab reporter Neal Morton wrote about how Tacoma School District is using behavioral science to send a wake-up call about attendance.
In December 2016, the district delivered 5,000 “nudge” letters to the families of chronically absent students. The letters highlight not only students attendance records, but also that of their classmates. For many parents, seeing the side-by-side comparison created a deeper sense of urgency to make lifestyle changes.
But “nudge theory,” which also has been used to boost voter turnout, may not work in every situation. So we asked you, the readers: Do you think nudge letters would have worked in your case? And would you want them used in your district?
Do you think nudge letters would have worked in your case?
In both our Twitter poll and Google form, the plurality of you said “no.” Why? We’re not exactly sure, but the 33 respondents to our Google form seemed to have pretty good attendance records. We asked them how often they missed class as a K-12 student. Here’s what Dawn Nguyen from Sammamish said:
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“When I was sick, or having very bad cramps (high school). Also some days missed to broken heartedness, as is typical with teenagers I think (mental health days).”
Herb Curl, a retired oceanographer from Seattle, told us he only remembered missing school once: when he had whooping cough. “Otherwise, it never occurred to me to miss a class. School was too interesting and they had a library.”
Would you want nudge letters to be used in your district?
According to the poll we embedded in our original nudge letters article, the overwhelming majority of respondents said “yes” (91 percent of 319 total votes.) But our Google form respondents had some healthy skepticism when we asked about expanding “nudge” theory into other areas of education.
- “NO!” wrote Wil Nelson, an engineer from Mill Creek. “Parent-teacher conferences or an occasional note home, if necessary, with an expected reply should be sufficient.”
- “I would like to see whether it improved absentee rates in communities of color before I would suggest this model be expanded,” wrote Deborah Jaquith, who works for Stand for Children Washington, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Seattle.
- “… I think it’s dangerous to base a parent-involvement model after the assumption that most if not all parents will take these reminders in stride and respond calmly and appropriately,” wrote Ryan Long, a student at Whitman College. “Abusive home situations often coincide with school delinquency, so in this situation I fear that the school district may be directly endangering the students it tries to help.”
- “Nudging will only further stress out already struggling students who may not be attending/completing homework/ etc. because they’re procrastinating out of a need to avoid more stressful situations, whether that’s their peers on campus (as in bullying), unpleasant teachers, even more work being added to their heavy load, or further sleep deprivation,” wrote Ambrosia Hitchcock, a student at Edmonds Community College.
Others liked the idea of expanding the practice, and threw in their own suggestions for how it could be used.
- “I think nudge theory could be used to show how students who read outside of school are more successful. Something like, a student who reads for 30 minutes a day increases his/her reading comprehension by __ amount. Or is exposed to ___ number of words,” wrote Marisa Real, a middle-school language arts teacher from Nehalem, Oregon.
- “Discipline referrals, for sure. In the school where I currently teach, we have a small number of kids earning the majority of referrals,” wrote Brett Fancher, an English teacher at Oroville High School in Oroville, Washington.
- “College applications and financial aid/scholarship deadlines,” wrote Kristin Gulledge from Woodinville. “Both the parents and the students are in denial of this next phase of life and they tend to miss these deadlines.”
What do you think? We’re no longer checking our surveys and polls on this topic, but we always read the comments.