Incentives and Surveys

Jacob Mnookin is the founder of Coney Island Prep. He writes:

As you probably know, the NYC DOE administers a Learning Environment Survey every year. It gets sent to every family that has a child in NYC public schools, every public school teacher, and every public school student in grades 6 and above. It is the largest survey administered on an annual basis.

Last year, citywide, 52% of parents responded. A bunch of charters were in that range, from 40-some percent to 70-ish.

Our first year, however, we had 95% of parents respond, and last year, we had 94% of parents respond.

How does the CI Prep team pull that off?

We get such high response by:

1) Offering a pizza party to the first advisory (a small group of students who are paired with a staff member for the year; an alternative to traditional "homeroom") that gets 100% returned; and a paycheck incentive to the first grade that gets 100% in.

2) We track who turned them in and who didn't, and our Office Manager hounds the families that didn't turn them in.

The big takeaway for me: don't underestimate the power that students can have over their families--if a kid wants some incentive bad enough (a pizza party, say; or a bonus on their weekly paycheck), they will do whatever it takes to make sure their mom or dad completes the survey, and they turn it in on time. And secondly, if you just make it incredibly annoying for families to opt out, they won't.

Let's see.

What if our charter school's parent survey rate went from about 54% to Coney Island's 95%? Let's set aside the improved data we'd have. Let's look at a different benefit.

Currently, let's say 10% or so of our families rate their overall experience as lower than 7 out of 10 (median is around 9 out of 10). Those families get a personal call from the principal that summer. And while some of these parents are of course already "on the radar screen" of each principal, others are essentially "quietly dissatisfied." Each returned survey not only gives us data (to compare to other years), but also alerts us to opportunities of people we can reach out to immediately and directly.

So if our charter schools managed to get a higher survey return rate, we'd get more of these "let's talk about it, let's really sort it out" type conversations between principal and parent.

So if we went from 54% to 95%, that's 41%....multiplied times roughly 550 kids = 225 or so kids. (I'm simplifying, since some parents have multiple kids in our school).

If we estimate a low tail of 10% dissatisfaction, that's an extra 22 or 23 parents in a given year that we're really digging in with, and working together to prepare a better subsequent year. That seems quite meaningful to me. Paging Dominos.