February 6, 2024

EveryDay Labs Co-Founder & Chief Scientist Dr. Todd Rogers Featured on NPR’s On Point!

In a recent piece from NPR’s On Point, educators, caretakers, and attendance experts weigh in the absenteeism challenges they face. Our Chief Scientist & co-founder Dr. Todd Rogers pops in around the 32 minute mark to share more about the research behind our attendance nudges and truancy notices. Click here to listen to the full story and catch the entire transcript, or read the transcript of the conversation with Dr. Rogers below, with commentary from Hedy Chang, Executive Director at Attendance Works!

Transcript excerpt from “How to fix chronic absenteeism in America’s schools” by Daniel Ackerman and Meghna Chakrabarti:

CHAKRABARTI: Now, I'm hoping both of you can listen along with me. Because we talked to many people doing our background and reporting for this show.

And one of them was Todd Rogers, who's a professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Chief Scientist at Everyday Labs. Now he's done research in attendance nudges. These are low-cost strategies that districts can use to reach a large number of chronically absent students, and they're things like mailing letters home. As long as they're worded in the right way, these can make a difference. For example, by comparing a student's attendance record to that of their peers. That's according to Todd's research.

TODD ROGERS: The way that initially started was by sending almost monthly mailers to families that are tailored using their kids' data.

So your kid has missed 10 days. Your kid's classmates have missed seven. We tend to conform to the behavior of others. So we say your kid has missed a little more than their classmates and so recalibrating on how many days their kid has missed and how it compares to their classmates. And using it in a way that is not punitive, but is actually much more from an asset-based lens, which is parents or partners.

We all share the interest in the kid's success, with language tailored that way, proves to be outrageously cost-effective at reducing absenteeism.

CHAKRABARTI: Now with experimental data, Todd's been able to find out which attendance nudges work, and which ones don't. We actually found in a very large, randomized trial across 10 districts using 10,000 high school kids, that sending a specific kind of award, which is a certificate saying congratulations on perfect attendance, decreases subsequent attendance relative to not giving it to them.

And the later in follow-up studies, what we found, is that they interpret an award as saying you attend school more than your classmates.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, one of the most successful nudges was a simple rewrite of California's truancy letters. Previously, schools in the state would mail these letters to families of students with at least three unexcused absences, and the letters tended to be full of jargon and also threatened legal action against families.

ROGERS: We rewrote them. Cut the words, cut the language, reading level and said, we're on your team. We're worried about your kid. How do, how we need, how can we help? And we ran a massive randomized control trial in LA with 130,000 families and found that rewriting it as if you intend for humans to understand it and if you want to be a partner, made it about 40% more effective.

CHAKRABARTI: Hedy Chang, what about, what do you think about these district-wide changes in strategy, these little nudges.

CHANG: Yeah, first of all, I was actually partnering with Todd on the LA truancy shift in notification. And I think I would start there as one of the most important things we can do. Because there are many places that have truancy notifications that start off in a really negative tone and they're actually undermining the ability to forge a partnership with kids and families. To identify and then address the problems that might be creating, that might be leading them to not showing up to school. And when we start with a threat, it just makes them angry and not want to talk to us.

That's something we can absolutely do everywhere, where I think it's important to think about. And the other part of not Todd's work, which is on making sure that families know how many days kids actually missed. That is also important. Because families don't necessarily know that, nor understand how it is taking away that invaluable in time of instruction in the classroom. What I think we have to rethink a little bit is this issue of peer.

Because when a lot of that research was done, it was when chronic absence was, it's not at the incredibly high levels that we see now. And one of the challenges we face with, as I said, two thirds of all kids in a school with 20% or more of their kids, of the kids chronically absent, is that kids and families think chronic absence more is the norm.

And I think that we have to be taking a group approach to shifting that. I know that actually when Everyday Labs uses the peer comparisons, they only use it when the comparison is less than the absenteeism of the kid who's being reached to. And if that's not the case, you're going to fall into the trap of what Todd said with the attendance [incentive] rewards.

Because kids then think, Oh, I am, I can miss this much because everyone else is. I think we have to actually continue to modify what we think are the best messages about making sure that kids see the value of being in school.

To learn about attendance nudges, check out EveryDay Intervention. For more on our restorative truancy notices, check out Truancy Support

Getting students on track starts with attendance. We can help.