Catalyst: Too many students are missing school. This company hopes to fix that.

For EveryDay Labs, success is making sure students show up for class.

April 23, 2024

| by June D. Bell

Emily Bailard says missing school has become a chronic post-pandemic problem. | Chloe Cushman

The problem: Absenteeism at the K-12 level is pervasive, underrecognized, and damaging to the long-term performance of students.

The plan: Provide tools and support for parents to promote attendance and monitor progress.

Even when children are chronically absent — missing 10% of school days — parents assume their attendance is better than their peers’. That delusion is simply human nature, says Emily Bailard, MBA ’09, CEO of EveryDay Labs. “We all think we’re better than average, and we have zero context because we never have conversations with friends about attendance. We have no idea what’s normal.”


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For too many children and teens, lackluster attendance is the norm. Absences have surged post-pandemic and continue to remain high, with as many as a third of learners from kindergarten through 12th grade missing one out of every 10 school days. Students who are regularly absent typically lag in reading and math, score lower on tests, and have lower graduation rates. In states where attendance rates affect funding, chronic absenteeism can mean less revenue for districts and education. Kids miss school for a variety of reasons, including food and housing insecurity, academic struggles, and parents’ mistaken belief that being absent a few days a month doesn’t affect learning.

EveryDay Labs combat absenteeism with software that deploys a blend of behavioral science and data analytics to prompt parents to make attendance a priority. They receive routine “nudges,” including personalized texts, snail-mail reminders, easy-to-read attendance charts, access to 24/7 chatbots with links to resources such as transportation access, and phone calls from the company’s family support team. For many moms and dads, those communications are a wake-up call: 43% say they didn’t realize their child’s attendance was an issue until they began receiving truancy notices. “Parents are driving attendance,” Bailard says, “and when parent behavior changes, attendance improves.”

Attendance rates typically tick up about two months after districts begin using EveryDay Labs’ software suite. Multiple randomized controlled trials in 14 districts showed it reduced chronic absenteeism by 11 to 15%, Bailard says — a success rate that helped clinch her decision to join the company. EveryDay Labs serves more than a million students in over 40 school districts, including those in Atlanta, Sacramento, Cleveland, Dallas, Portland, Wichita, and San Francisco. They pay EveryDay Labs $5 to $10 per student per year, and the company says its annual revenue has tripled since 2019 to reach $5 million to $10 million.

“The percent of chronically absent students has nearly doubled from the pre-pandemic rate of about 15%.”

Todd Rogers, a professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, launched EveryDay Labs in 2015 to apply his research in behavioral science and data analytics on a larger scale. He and UC Berkeley public policy researcher Avi Feller reported encouraging results when they studied young learners in 10 San Mateo County school districts in 2015-16. The “light-touch, low-cost intervention” attendance updates they sent to parents reduced absences in grades K-5 by 8% and chronic absences by 15%. That success was the catalyst for EveryDay Labs.

Bailard became CEO in 2018 after spending three years as a leader of the Social Entrepreneurship Program at Stanford GSB’s Center for Social Innovation. Before that, she held management roles at Opower, which prompts utility customers to cut their energy usage by comparing their energy consumption to their neighbors. Bailard says her Opower experience proved more helpful than an education degree or school administration experience when she joined EveryDay Labs. “If I had an education background, I might have thought that certain things were impossible,” she says. “It’s been kind of liberating and freeing that I don’t know the ‘typical’ way of doing it. In some ways, it’s been a benefit, but the flip side, too, is I’ve leaned heavily on learning from a sales perspective on CEOs of other ed-tech companies,” as well as GSB classmates with startup expertise.

About 20% of US students live in a state where school funding is based on attendance, so school districts have a financial incentive to improve that metric. But turning school districts into customers can be challenging because of a long sales cycle, high turnover in district purchasing and decision-making roles, and the steep cost of making those sales, Bailard says. The potential market, however, is huge. EveryDay Labs estimates that adding 7,400 more districts — all but the smallest — would boost annual recurring revenue to about $1.6 billion.

Since raising an $8 million Series A round in 2021, EveryDay Labs is positioned to transform from a services company to a full-fledged tech company. Bailard will steer the operation as it looks to apply behavior science and family engagement practices to areas beyond attendance. One promising application may be improving schools’ notoriously obtuse communications to parents, a potential market of $2.1 billion, she says.

EveryDay Labs already has the trust of school administrators seeking remedies for high absenteeism, an unwelcome legacy of the pandemic. The percent of chronically absent students has nearly doubled from the pre-pandemic rate of about 15%, according to the non-profit group Attendance Works. In 30 California school districts, the rate of chronic absenteeism surged to 22% over the past two school years from 9% in 2020-21. Bailard estimates it will take a decade to return absentee rates to pre-pandemic levels. Pandemic-era safety nets that bolstered attendance, such as free healthcare, have vanished, and attendance norms have changed. Parents are more likely to keep kids home when they have even minor cold symptoms and are more comfortable ditching school for family trips.

Changing behavior doesn’t happen overnight, but if moms and dads can make sure their kids are at their desks daily, those learners will have a better chance of keeping pace with classmates and ultimately receiving high school diplomas. “It’s really hard to know how to support your child’s success in school,” Bailard says. “We’re giving parents a straightforward way to do that: by helping your child attend every day.”

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