Cleveland Schools Cut Absenteeism With Marketing Campaign

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Cleveland school officials say a marketing and incentive program has made a drastic difference in its attendance rates.

The district presented the program to committee of the Ohio Board of Education Monday.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District started its “Get 2 School, You Can Make It” campaign in 2015 with the goal of changing the city’s culture around school attendance.

Lorri Hobson, CMSD’s director of attendance, said before the campaign began, 44 percent of Cleveland students were chronically absent, or missed more than 10 days each year.

Two years later, 30 percent of students fall into that category, getting more than 5,000 kids back on track.

“When our scholars are absent for 10 days for any reason, they score 12 points lower on standard reading tests, 15 points lower on standard math and they’re 34 percent less likely to graduate high school,” she said.

Columbus City Schools reported a chronic absenteeism rate of 38 percent for the 2016-2017 school year. Akron City Schools reported a rate of 22 percent.

CMSD hired Burgess and Burgess Strategists, a Cleveland strategic communications and marketing firm, to help write the campaign that Hobson says focuses on sharing positive messages with parents about the importance of attending school, not messages that criticize them for their child’s absence.

Hobson explained the attendance campaign includes many of the same elements as an election campaign, including door knocking, billboards and robo calls from district educators, Mayor Frank Jackson and a number of Cleveland Browns players.

The district also chooses targeted days throughout the year to offer incentivize to kids for attendance. Targeted days include the Tuesday after Labor Day, Hobson explained, which district data showed was a day that a large number of students missed.

According to Hobson, the number one reason Cleveland students are absent is illness. The second highest reason is when students are asked to care for a younger sibling or take on another adult responsibility.

Hobson said the program has opened up lines of communication with parents to help connect them with resources so students don’t face the same barriers to attendance in the future.

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