Analytics and School Attendance: A Laundry Story


(Image: RomoloTavani/iStockphoto)

(Image: RomoloTavani/iStockphoto)

Back-to-school season is upon us. Many students will resume their studies in August, and some may need extra help of one form or another to make the academic year a success.

School success begins with student attendance. Absent students can't learn that day's lesson, and those students are most likely fall behind in their work. While some absences are unavoidable, there are times when what holds students back is just not having clean clothes to wear, according to appliance maker Whirlpool. The company has created a program called Whirlpool Care Counts to put washers and dryers in schools to help address the issue of absenteeism due to lack of clean clothes and is now collecting data on how these in-school appliances impact student attendance.

In setting up the program Whirlpool asked teachers about absenteeism. More than half of teachers expressed concern about it and said that a lack of clean clothes is one reason why some students miss school. Certainly, a laundry service could solve that problem. But how would it be set up?

Whirlpool sought information from schools about how to set up a pilot program to do that. The schools identified which students needed the service and then tracked their laundry loads. The loads totaled about 50 per student over the course school year. Whirlpool correlated laundry loads with individual student performance, comparing that performance to the previous year's performance, before the appliances were put in place. Whirlpool anonymized the data.

By the end of the first year, the machines had provided approximately 2,000 loads of laundry for the students who needed them. "After examining the correlation between student attendance and loads of laundry washed and dried, over 90% of tracked students in the program improved their attendance, averaging 6.1 more days in school than the previous year," according to Whirlpool. Whirlpool said that students identified as "most at-risk," showed even greater improvement -- close to 10 more days in school than the year before.

The laundry program tracking revealed additional benefits beyond better attendance. Teachers reported the following:

  • 95% of participants showed increased motivation in class
  • 95% of participants were more likely to participate in extracurricular activities
  • 95% of participants interacted with peers and enjoyed school more
  • 89% of participants got good grades

The pilot program served 17 schools in two school districts during that first year, according to Today Parents. David Weir Preparatory Academy near San Francisco is a middle school that was part of that pilot. Many students at the school don't have a lot of money. Indeed, 94% of students live in a household whose income is low enough to qualify for subsidized lunch programs, according to the Today report.

After the pilot, Whirlpool expanded its program to five additional regions to cover cities including Baltimore; Benton Harbor, Michigan; Charlotte, North Carolina; Nashville; and St. Louis.

In May 2017, Whirlpool announced further expansion plans for the 2017-2018 school year, the program would expand farther to nearly 60 schools around the country and four more regions with the help of Teach for America. Whirlpool and Teach For America will select 20 schools in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans that will receive washers and dryers this summer in time for the next school year.

That's good news for the students at these schools and for all of us who care about making using data for good. Here's where data is gathered not just to identify problems but to see the impact of the solution at work.

Ariella Brown,

Ariella Brown is a social media consultant, editor, and freelance writer who frequently writes about the application of technology to business. She holds a PhD in English from the City University of New York. Her Twitter handle is @AriellaBrown.

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Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/29/2017 11:57:09 AM
NO RATINGS

@ImpactNow - For community service, I worked with a group to replace the roof of a woman who didn't have the means to repair her roofs many leaks. One step of the process was to take the discarded shingles to the nearby dump. Since the municipal dump is intended for local residents, we borrowed the woman's water bill to show that this material was from a resident and local taxpayer.

I was surprised to see how little she paid for a month of water usage and thought initially that it must be subsidized under some special program. But it wasn't. She just had reduced her usage to the absolute minimum. She didn't complain, but she must have been very careful her cooking and cleaning to use less water in a month than some teenagers use in one shower.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 11:45:43 PM
NO RATINGS

Predictable you are exactly right so many people in the US fail to realize how many Americans especially children are living in very dire situations where the things we take for granted are not available; washing machines, dinner, dryers. Ther is a reason we have school lunches and school breakfast programs. ther are many kids and families in need in the US. Many of them don't have a parent to wash clothes in the sink because their parents are working multiple jobs, struggling to meet their bills for basics. Ariella, I wonder if any analysis has been done on this program and its location/ socio economic status of students of the schools. I would bet it is very revealing.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 11:07:47 PM
NO RATINGS

Yes, I expect the teachers or other staff are willing volunteers. If I was a teacher, I would volunteer if the lack of clean clothes was all that kept a few students from being successful.

In one of the videos on the Whirlpool site, a little girl explained that she had a washer at home, but her electricity had been cut so they couldn't do laundry that way.

What about Jim's suggestion that they wash clothes in the sink? If I think about the kind of poverty that causes a family in the US to live without electricity, my guess is that they are watching the water usage pretty closely. Most of us on this site think of water as free. It is cheap, but it isn't free. And there are some families that have to watch every gallon.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 1:38:32 PM
NO RATINGS

@PC I don't believe any teachers are being forced to do laundry. When I read up on it, some teachers said that they wanted to help these kids but couldn't manage to take the laundry of the students home with them to get it done. Getting the machines in school allows the kids to drop off the dirty clothes and bring home clean ones. As I said,  there are volunteers involved. One of the pictuers on the Care Counts site shows a volunteer putting clothese in a machine. 

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 1:14:46 PM
NO RATINGS

@Ariella - the results are impressive.

I'm surprised that there are kiddos that would miss six or more days of school due to not having clean clothes. But my preconceived idea isn't a reason to dismiss actual data.

The other angle that is interesting here is that the school staff is doing someone's laundry. I'm picturing a couple loads a week, and each with a small number of items. Once the child knows how this is being done, he or she can pick up their items themselves. Maybe even transfer them from washer to dryer. I know my best teachers did kind things that weren't in the job description. I guess this is just one more of those.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 1:14:03 PM
NO RATINGS

I try not to judge until I walk in someone's shoes. When schools require a uniform or a school dress code it exacerbates this problem. Many children are being raised in one parent households and getting laundry done is a challenge when facilities require a trip. Parents work night shifts or two jobs at times and the kids don't have anyone to rely on for basics like laundry. I would guess that many of these laundry facilities are being installed in schools where there are at risk students. I agree with Ariella it is very much the same as giving kids a hot breakfast or lunch because their families can't afford it. To break the chain we need kids to get an education to empower them to get better jobs and earn higher wages. I support the efforts by Whirlpool to address this issue in a creative way. It's for the better of society kids out of school helps no one.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 12:45:08 PM
NO RATINGS

@rbaz As a parent who feels it is my job to bring up my kids, I understanding that point of view. But I don't think the public school system has operated that way for many decades. I'm pretty sure health classes have been a thing for a very long time, as it predates my own school days.  And it has grown even more so of late, going so far as to track kids' BMI accoridng to this 2013 article,.chicagotribune.com/2013-05-17/health/ct-met-bmi-backlash-20130517_1_bmi-childhood-obesity-rates-muscular-people/2: 

These things are largely prescriptive, which means they impose a point of view but don't necessarily have practical effects. In contrast, doing laundry for kids who obviously need clean clothes is giving direct help to those who need it. In that way, it's not all that different than giving free meals at schools.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 12:37:35 PM
NO RATINGS

Ariella, I see your point and the grand picture of such initiatives, but I hold the belief and position that schools should not be burden with addressing every social ills even though they do impact the performance of the students. I would love to see the issues of nutrition, hygiene and so on be addressed without burdening and diluting the academic setting. Just one man's opinion!

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 12:22:46 PM
NO RATINGS

@rbaz Schools are not doing every kid's laundry. They are making it possible for those who have missed school due to a lack of clean clothes to get their laundry done while attending classes. Are they overstepping their bounds? They would say not because they regard the clean clothes as something the kid need to succeed in school. In that way, it could be regarded in the same light as free breakfasts and lunches served to school children who may otherwise not be getting that from home. Isn't it the parent's responsibility to see to it that children are fed? Certainly. But does that mean that it happens as it should? Obviously, not.

BTW even in my neighborhood, they make a big point of serving free breakfast  to kids under 18 at the library in the summer because they fear that without the school meal kids will go hungry. Over here, it largely is not needed. I often see the attendants just sitting around playing on their phones. But this is likely a tax-funded program, and we're used to tax dollars going to programs that look good on paper but accomplish little actual good. At least for the laundry program, the cost is underwritten by a corporation.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 12:17:41 PM
NO RATINGS

Ariella, I'm having trouble envisioning how this process is Incorporated with the academic schedule. Call me old (guilty) but the mission of school is expanding beyond academics even though they are finding that challenging.

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