Every single, solitary superintendent we speak with and every LCAP (local control accountability plan) we read have one thing in common: a top priority for the district is always to increase and/or protect average daily attendance (ADA). The reason for this need is fairly simple: funding is based on ADA. What makes it a bit more complicated is that California is an open enrollment state. The effect this has on individual districts is nuanced, but it creates the universal truth that every school in the state is now faced with the competition that comes with being in an open market.This is where we need to start.
Let’s have a quick conversation about the difference between average daily attendance and enrollment because, whilethey’re interdependent, they’re not the same thing. Enrollment is the total number of students enrolled in your school/district. Average daily attendance is the average number of students who attend school on a daily basis.
Bottom line: the number of students who are enrolled in your school matters, but funding depends on the number of students who actually come to class on a daily basis. This means that the equation for maximizing ADA is split into two parts.
You need to:
- Appeal to parents to encourage enrollment
- Maintain your value at a level that makes students excited to attend
Time to divide and conquer.
The first part of the equation.
The first piece of the puzzle is enrollment, so let’s start there. There will always be a certain percentage of families that choose convenience for their kids whether that means attending school in the district in which they live or one that aligns with their daily work commute. But we also know that in many cases, parents are willing to forego convenience in favor of value. Understanding what parents value in education today (and how you can meet those needs better than the other schools) means there are more opportunities to sway those parents. It might be through increased parent engagement with better communication options, it might be by providing a safer learning environment, it might be a great STEM program, or it might be an innovative curriculum delivery. We can’t tell you what your students’ parents value, but they can. And understanding that through market research is the first step toward persuading more families to enroll in your district.
The second part of the equation.
We also have to think about attendance for the complete equation to optimize ADA because it doesn’t matter how many students you have enrolled in your school if the students are not making it to class. We’ve spoken to school districts in which schools are literally composed of 60% transfer students, meaning most families in their schools have to make a deliberate effort to attend every day. That effort only comes with high levels of motivation. There are many forms of motivation, but they consistently boil down to the belief that a particular school can provide a better student experience. Maybe that experience comes in the form of athletics, maybe it comes in the form of academics, or maybe it comes in the form of highly engaged students who are excited about learning. The job of a school or a district is to optimize all possible options (based on its strengths and abilities). Parents and students who are excited about what a district is doing will figure out a way to make it work.
The secret part of the equation.
Okay, we said there were two parts to the equation, but there are really three. Many schools and/or districts successfully provide the latter half of the equation. That is to say they provide an excellent learning environment or at the very least are open to consistent improvement as best practices evolve. Many schools are also focused on increasing their enrollment. What many schools lack is the ability to successfully market themselves as schools that will provide the best student experience and parent engagement. The lack of marketing is based on the fact that districts are simply not used to the idea that they have competition, so it’s really just not on their radar. They often don’t know how or where to start, and they can’t find key differentiators that a) are accessible to them and b) will convince parents and students to play their part in the ADA equation. We will continue this conversation by showing you some real examples of opportunities you can provide to students and parents that will help convey your district’s benefits, so stay tuned.
Check out our first blog in the series on open enrollment: