Why Parent Data is Important – and Hard to Maintain

“You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data.” — Daniel Keys Moran said.  He didn’t say this about parent data, but the same message applies!

When thinking about parent partnerships with schools, schools need parent data to have information. You can’t learn about why a child may be struggling if you don’t have the data that helps you contact the parent.  A child may have 4 siblings in your school and you may not know it if you don’t have the data to know how students are related. You can’t know that you don’t have a person to call to pick up a student if you don’t know that the contact information in your system is wrong.

Yet unfortunately in schools, we’re often left to throw our hands up and give up on getting and maintaining clean, up-to-date, valuable parent information and data.  

We do a great job of tracking how kid’s reading rates are growing, but we struggle to keep up with the best way to contact their parent.

 And part of why we struggle is because it isn’t easy!

 Phone trends are changing rapidly

  • 96% of adults own a cell phone
  • Almost 30% of low-income families either don’t have smartphones or wi-fi access

And with the increasing levels of gentrification families are having to move more often.  This has an impact on where they live and how they are best connected.

 And as schools know all too well there are even more reasons that it can be difficult to keep up with parent data and contact information difficult:

  • Parent phone numbers change a lot
  •  Some parents don’t have cell phones
  • Some parents share 1 single landline
  • Parents don’t always have email addresses
  •  Schools have multiple languages (we work with schools with as many as 20 languages within one school)
  • Schools already have a lot on their plates
  • Student information systems aren’t always the most user-friendly for keeping data updated

And yet – keeping parent data up to date is so important:

1 – you can’t contact one of the most important constituents if you don’t have it
2 – you’re missing important aggregate data
3 – if you don’t have up to date contact information for parents, parents don’t know that it’s important for you to know how to reach them.

 So how can you overcome the obstacles and keep parent data up to date?

parent data

  1.   Take advantage of the beginning of the year and the registration process

    •  Ask parents what their preferred method of communication is (paper, email, text, Facebook messenger, twitter)
    •  Ask for every piece of information you can from parents (address, phone number (by type of number – mobile, work, closest relative), Facebook ID, twitter ID)
    • Let parents know about any communication groups you have unique to parents – facebook groups of whats app groups
  1. Create “two books” for parent data – the SIS and your own system

    A lot of parent data is in the student information system, but if that is the only place you keep parent data you are constrained by that system.  For example, some student information systems don’t identify which phone number type you have (cell, home or work). They are also not always structured in user-friendly ways, making it hard to maximize how you use or analyze the data.

  1. Create a system for teachers to be able to update contact information and parent data

    To the above point, having a way for teachers – or really, anyone – to easily update their information is important.  Through Possip we often get updates on parent information. Either a person saying a previously used phone number is no longer accurate, or a parent trying to share that their number will be changing.  Often schools don’t have a way to capture this information in a new system!

  1. At every high-stakes and high engagement point, send home a notification for parents to update their contact information. 

Pen and paper can still be an effective way to get parent information. One Possip partner sends home a note along with report cards.  So when parents sign report cards they also fill out any changes in their contact information.

  1. Make sure you have multiple ways to reach out to parents

Sometimes schools don’t know they don’t have contact information that is out of date until it is too late.  For example, the first time a kid gets sick is the first time the number is tried. And sadly that is when the school learns that the phone number is not up to date.  Make sure you are routinely reaching out to families, identifying which phone numbers are not up to date, and have a ready-made form to send home with a student to get their most up to date contact information.

  1.   Have a person delegated to parent data who will clean up the contact information when needed

One of the challenges within a school is figuring out which person owns the integrity of parent data.  It can be a lot of people – but what is most important is making sure there is an owner who is responsible and accountable for parent information being up to date.

One last note!  We know schools already have more than enough on their plates.  But one way you can help parents is to help them identify ways to keep a consistent phone number and email.  Google is a great tool that parents can use to sign up for a free, constant phone number and a free, constant email.  The phone number can work with different numbers, or on a computer. So they can always have access to their phone number as long as they can access a computer or wifi (which they can sometimes do at your school, library or a community center). 

So to the extent possible, help them also identify resources they can use to maintain constant and up to date contact information.  Help them see why it’s so important that you have great ways to contact them!

Lastly, by having multiple ways of connecting with parents, you increase the likelihood that one of the paths will work.  So while it feels hard to do a robocall + email + paper + Facebook + text, research shows that people need to hear something 5 times for it to stick. 

And what is more important than parents hearing about what is happening for their child in their daily life.