• Tony Wold, Ed.D.

Parents Just Don’t Understand


There is a major assumption that parents and students fully understand the value of attending school every day. This assumption, however, does not truly take into account the research regarding behaviors and learned habits. Research has demonstrated the importance of parent involvement in promoting school success (Comer 1984, Lareau 1987). At the same time, the lack of participation among parents of socially and culturally diverse students is also well documented (Clark 1983, Delgado-Gaitan 1991). Students and families respond to areas that are emphasized by the school. Simply put if we want parents to understand the importance of daily attendance, then we need to educate them about the education of their children.


“You know parents are the same no matter time nor place

They don't understand that us kids are gonna make some mistakes

So to you other kids all across the land

There's no need to argue, parents just don't understand”

DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince


There is also an assumption that districts do not need to engage in additional messaging beyond what is prescribed by Education Code to address absenteeism. When districts invest in ongoing messaging regarding the positive impact of attendance in a family’s native language, both daily attendance and student achievement improve. Districts representing 57,000 K-3 students across the nation implemented the Achievement Initiative where those districts added a monthly touchpoint of positive messaging to every student and family. During the summer this meant that good attendance was reinforced, and families were supported to build good habits with 11 unique impressions.


The cost of this messaging was approximately $25 per student. This messaging became a permanent component of these districts’ core program and was consistently delivered for 4 years. The results were staggering: chronic absenteeism dropped from 35% down to 3%, and more importantly, excessive excused absences dropped from 48% down to 14% meaning that families were embracing the value of not missing school. To provide a Return on Investment for this initiative let's run the average numbers:

In this example prevention, at the cost of ½ of 1 day of student funding resulted in astronomical gains in both learning time and ongoing revenue in ADA states. The annual investment of $1.4M netted a $7.15M gain in funding. For Average Daily Membership (ADM) funded state just as in the ADA funded states the increase of 1 million instructional hours provides for much higher student achievement in the most critical years and fewer dropouts. The other result is that the number of students who need intervention and remediation dropped significantly and allowed those districts to reallocate the funds they were using on remediation to other student support programs which ultimately leads to even greater student achievement.


Parents want to understand. Parents want to feel like they are part of the process of their child’s success. Parents need to know exactly how they can help-- getting their kids to school on time, every day ready to learn. We can't expect parents to understand the evolution of education if they aren't taught about it. Age may produce wisdom, but relevance needs to be worked on every day. Our job as educators should be to draw parents and students in with positive, encouraging communication and messaging.