Guest author Katie Test Davis is the founder of Forthright Advising, a communications firm that works with public school districts.
Recent estimates show that millions of students are absent from school this year. Many of them may be our most vulnerable students—those with disabilities, without technology at home or facing homelessness—widening already existing inequities.
Missing just a few days of school isn’t good for students…but missing whole semesters? The long-term consequences are heartbreaking. Research shows that missing students have lower academic achievement, lower chances of enrolling in college and lower lifetime wages. And, with many districts’ state funding tied to student enrollment numbers, future school budgets are also at risk.
With so much at stake, what can we do to bring missing students back to public school for the 2021-22 school year? Today, I’m sharing tips featured in our free planning guide, How to (Re)+Build Your District’s Enrollment Numbers.
Step 1: Understand which students are missing and why they’re not in school
Many reasons for the enrollment decline stem from the COVID-19 pandemic. Just a few of the reasons we’ve heard include:
- Parents with the means to do so are homeschooling, hiring tutors for “learning pods,” or enrolling in private or charter schools.
- Parents are holding back five years olds from virtual kindergarten or enrolling them in in-person childcare instead.
- Some older students transitioned to formal work or informal work providing primary care for their younger siblings.
- Some students may miss district communications because high unemployment rates, housing insecurity and evictions have risen across the country, increasing student mobility.
Every district is facing different challenges. Identifying what families in your community are thinking and concerned about will tell you how to focus your campaign.
Step 2: Appeal to what missing students’ parents care about
Overall, most parents are supportive of their schools: 88 percent of parents approve of the job their children’s teachers are doing during the pandemic. But 55 percent are concerned about keeping their children’s education on track, according to an NEA survey.
But these worries often differ depending on the family’s demographics. For example in-person safety concerns vary widely across racial, political and socioeconomic groups.
Parents also say worries about virtual learning’s effectiveness, the safety of in-person classes and their children’s social development are driving their choices.
While all parents want what is best for their children, their challenges vary as well. Messaging that resonates with families thinking about private school must be different from how you’ll reach families facing economic barriers. Taking the time to gather inputs about who isn’t enrolled will improve your communication’s effectiveness.
Step 3: Reach parents where they are
Once you understand what motivates specific parents, you’ll need to figure out where they’re getting their most trusted information.
For most parents, this starts with family and friends. This points to the importance of recruiting trusted messengers like parent ambassadors. The majority of parents also consume a lot of social media, especially Facebook. (Three-quarters of all online parents are active on it!)
Again, demographics come into play. For example, 25 percent of American adults don’t have access to broadband internet access at home. People living in rural areas, older adults, or adults with a lower level of education or income are less likely to have this access. Consider your specific parent groups and dig into what channels will best reach them.
By understanding all of these factors, you’ll be well on your way to boosting your student enrollment.
FREE Resource !!
If you need a little extra help, we’ve got you. We recently released a free, hands-on guide for tackling the student enrollment crisis: How to (Re)+Build Your District’s Enrollment Numbers: Your Planning Guide to Personalized Communications, available to all district leaders.
This guide builds on the tips we shared today. It pairs comprehensive research on the COVID-19 student enrollment crisis with Forthright’s winning communication planning formula.
I hope you’ll check out the guide and share it with your friends and colleagues! At Forthright, we’re committed to kids. We know the student enrollment crisis will have impacts long into the future. We hope this guide will help YOU–the leaders and communicators fighting this crisis–ensure as many children as possible are in school, learning.