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PeerPower on "Tell Me Something I Don't Know" Podcast: Increasing Attendance can Increase School Funding

Sunday, February 19th, 2017 - Michael

PeerPower Tell Me Something I Dont Know Podcast Attendance school Funding Image TMSIDK Contestants on stageI am a big fan of the Freakonomics books and podcast. If you are someone who believes in questioning assumptions and using data to inform (not dictate or drive) your decisions and you haven't read the books or listened to the podcast, you are in for a treat.

Recently, Stephen Dubner, one of the authors of the books and the creator of the podcast, started a spin-off podcast called "Tell Me Something I Don't Know". It's a kind of inside out game show where instead of the contestants answering questions, they ask questions. The first "episode" of the show was actually on the Freakonomics podcast, and you can listen to it here. It's a lot of fun.

As a regular listener to Freakonomics, I was excited to hear the new Tell Me Something I Don't Know idea was going legit, and Dubner made an announcement asking Freakonomics listeners to apply to be contestants on the show. Here is what I entered into the applicant form:

On the November 27, 2014 episode of the Freakonomics Radio podcast, former New York City Schools Chancellor said: "I mean, we often used to jokingly say, you know, parents give us the best kids that they have for us to educate. And by the same token, kids come with the best parents that they’re going to get, and we have to take them where they are." Yes, he said "jokingly", but beneath that statement is an assumption that parents' contribution to their children's education is fixed - it may be positive, negative, neutral, or a non-existent contribution - but fixed. But what if that isn't true? And more importantly, what if parental involvement is a powerful but unused lever in education?
Recent randomized controlled trials show that when parents receive specific information about their students, those students have higher attendance and earn better grades than students whose parents don't receive those messages. In one study teachers sent messages about student areas of improvement to parents and those students had an increase in attendance of 3.2% and a 41% reduction in course failure over the control group. In another study sending messages reduced class skipping 28% and increased grades by .19 standard deviations compared to the control.
And here's the real kicker. In states representing about 40% of all public school students in the United States, the state department of education funds school districts largely based on attendance - meaning the higher attendance is, the more funding school districts receive. So not only would sending these messages increase student achievement (how much students learn), it would also increase attendance and therefore the funding school districts receive in California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
Parent-Child Information Frictions and Human Capital Investment: Evidence from a Field Experiment: OR


And I am happy to report, I was selected to participate as a contestant. I got a phone call from Emma at Freakonomics first, and she asked me a bunch of questions about my submission (my "I don't know" or "IDK" in Tell Me Something I Don't Know parlance.) She then asked if I would be able to travel to New York City if I was chosen and I said yes. A couple weeks later I received an email telling me I would be a contestant.

You can learn more about the show and listen to episodes at the TMSIDK website. I was on the second episode recorded for season two, but it does not appear they are releasing the episodes in the same order they were recorded.

If you are looking for more information and resources about the importance of increasing attendance and reducing chronic absenteeism, visit the awesome folks at non-profit Attendance Works.

If you would like to learn more about how PeerPower can help your school increase attendance, student achievement, and school funding, please contact us!