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
  • 7/28/2017 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.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 12:06:44 PM
NO RATINGS

James, I'm with you all the way on your point. It's evident that not everyone subscribe to basic values of Parenthood and Civic responsibilities. What's next? Toothbrushing project?

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 12:03:22 PM
NO RATINGS

@James It's not clear whether the parents are ordering the children to stay home or the kids are deciding to avoid going in when they don't have clean clothes. It's quite possible that their parents aren't around in the day and don't know if their kids are goling in to school or not.  Many parents, unfortunately, don't pay that much attention for various reasons. I know parents who are lazy and so let their kids remain dirty because they can't be bothered to change them when they get dirty and don't like going through laundry. But I think these families have far greater challenges to contend with.

BTW I grew up without a dryer and washed everything by hand when I was dorming to save on laundry expenses, but just about no one would dream of doing that today.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 11:57:30 AM
NO RATINGS

@rbaz during school hours.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 11:56:53 AM
NO RATINGS

@kq4ym @PC As these kids come from poorer households, likely there is no washing machine in the home itself. That makes getting laundry much more of chore, as it requires going to a laundromat and paying for each load. So you may begin to see why it is more of a big deal to get the clothes clean, something we tend to take for granted. This reminds me of Jo Goodwin Parker's "What is poverty?" piece:

Poverty is dirt. You can say in your clean clothes coming from your clean house, "Anybody can be clean." Let me explain about housekeeping with no money. For breakfast I give my children grits with no oleo or cornbread without eggs and oleo. This does not use up many dishes. What dishes there are, I wash in cold water and with no soap.

There's  alot more. You can find it at msu.edu/~jdowell/135/JGParker.html

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 11:51:39 AM
NO RATINGS

@PC yes, the kids bring their laundry in with them to school where it is washed by a staff member or volunteer. I don't know if they sort it out with one kid's laundry per load so that things don't get mixed up or if the clothing would have to be labeled.

Re: A Clean Break
  • 7/28/2017 9:12:05 AM
NO RATINGS

Good for Whirlpool for stepping up. However, as a parent who raised a couple of kids to adulthood I'm troubled by the fact that this whole concept is letting certain people off the hook. Where are the parents of these kids? They actually would keep the kids home from school rather than washing their clothes! That borders on criminal neglect. Once again, we are enabling bad parenting.

Yes, laundramats can get expensive, but a parent also could spend 10 minutes washing clothes in the kitchen sink and air drying them in front of a $12 fan (I've done that). This issue isn't about money as much as it is parental responsibility. Letting your kid stay home from school because you didn't feel like washing their clothes (or because the kid just didn't feel like going and used the 'no clean clothes' line as an excuse) says that the parents simply don't care about their kids.

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