Hypothesizing that many parents do not fully comprehend the consequences of missing school, the researchers mailed home messages such as “attendance in early grades affects student learning” and “absences result in missed opportunities that cannot be replaced.” Because parents tend to underestimate the number of school days their child has missed, the mailings also reported how many days that child had been absent.
More than 6,500 households in California across 10 school districts received these mailings six times in a school year (and an additional 4,400 households in a control group received only regular school outreach). Households received the messages if they had a child in kindergarten, or a child in first through fifth grade with less than average attendance the previous year. Eighteen percent of students were socioeconomically disadvantaged and 63 percent were non-white.
Another larger-scale study, conducted by Rogers and policy analyst Avi Feller, sent similar mailings in Philadelphia to more than 28,000 households. These mailings, which either reminded parents of the importance of attendance, additionally stated the child’s total absences, or further compared those absences to the child’s classmates’, went out to students in every grade and with any attendance record. Seventy-three percent of students were black or Latino, and 74 percent qualified for reduced or free lunch.
These low-cost, simple interventions had strong results.
In the first study, students whose families received the mailings missed 8 percent fewer school days that students in the control group (students receiving mailings were absent an average of 6.37 days, as opposed to 6.9 days).
Even more promising, the mailings were most effective for students with the lowest attendance. The mailings corresponded with a 15 percent reduction in chronic absenteeism, compared with the control group.
In the second study, over the course of the year, students whose parents received both reminders about the importance of attendance and information about the number of days they had missed were absent only 16 days on average, as opposed to 17 days on average in the control group.
In both cities, the mailings were inexpensive — between $4 and $7 per additional day of attendance generated.