Amen Rahh knows K-12 education. He is a retired principal in Compton, CA who has watched the issues in K-12 spring up since the pandemic.

And there are a few big issues K-12 is struggling with, from its financial issues to what to do about ChatGPT. But the two of the biggest issues right now are the continuing teacher shortage and chronic absenteeism.

Chronic absenteeism is usually defined as missing 10% of school days in a year. The number of school days in a year varies from state to state, but most states choose 180, meaning that in general the target for chronic absenteeism is missing 18 days or more, or about 2 per month.

California recently released its data on student absenteeism for the 2021-22 school year, and the jump is stark. Pre-pandemic we were seeing absenteeism rates a little higher than 10%, but for the 21-22 school year, the number jumped to 30%.

“Minimum 10 million kids are missing 10% of school this year, which will equate to at least a month of school”.

2019–20 absenteeism data are not valid and reliable due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chart: Yuxuan Xie  Source: California Department of Education  Created with Datawrapper

In fact, the state is explicitly blaming this issue for its poor NAEP scores this year, which would make post-pandemic absenteeism a huge driver in learning loss. That would mean that learning loss was less of an event, and more of a new reality.

How do we fix this shift?

For a few years there has been a quiet debate about whether we should pay students to go to school. It has recently come into a bit more prominence, and a recent Hechinger Report article tries to make the case for doing it to combat the problem of absenteeism and learning loss.

But there are hurdles to this, obvious administrative and bureaucratic hurdles, and unsurprising policy ones from those who object to any more money being spent on education.

Minimum 10 million kids are missing 10% of school this year, which will equate to at least a month of school

Principal Rahh

Principal Rahh has a different solution, integrating attendance with his other big interest, cryptocurrency.

He wants to teach kids cryptocurrency using his platform, K12Crypto. The idea is to first have students earn cryptocurrency for good attendance and have it placed into a crypto wallet, which functions a little like a trust, only accessible upon graduation. 

The app has just launched this week in a beta test with a middle school in California and a K-12 school in the south Bronx. The beta will last until the end of the school year on June 12th, and with 70k students already on the waitlist, Principal Rahh is hoping to scale in the fall. Pending proof of concept from the beta, Principal Rahh wants to take it wide and scale up to 100K by the end of 2023.

In terms of the coin itself, Principal Rahh is being really careful. “Right now, we are not building on the chain… until we figure out the safest, most permissionless chain”. Which means that at launch, the money is sitting in treasury bills as the plane is built.

Right now there is still some uncertainty with investors. EdTech has been hit by many flashy attempts to solve complex social problems that have not led to much demonstrably better systems. But, as Principal Rahh says, “The United States loses $1.2 billion just on chronic absenteeism”, so even marginally more students attending class could lead to a net savings.

Teaching students on this platform gets them more familiar with cryptocurrency itself. 64% of parents want their kids to know crypto, and Georgia has already added it to the curriculum, and all of this is important because it opens the possibility for students to invest responsibility in crypto.

Incentives in education typically fail because they incentivize compliance

Principal Rahh

With crypto scams and “rug-pulls” still running rampant, and because teens are a prime target, ensuring that students are sufficiently well educated to recognize when something is being done in bad faith. Crypto doesn’t have a great reputation right now, but investing scams are as old as investing, and its post-FTX reputation doesn’t mean that there aren’t still useful ends that crypto can be put to.

“This is history that is being written right now…What are we going to establish now so that kids can learn?”

But the end goal is not just to target absenteeism. Provided that it can actually help address the issue, Principal Rahh wants to take it further, he wants to use the incentives that this can provide to push students to explore online classes and find their passion.

“Incentives in education typically fail because they incentivize compliance”

Changing the incentive structure to get people to follow their own passions can be an especially complex maneuver. It is easy to incentivize and optimize for a specific outcome, but it can be harder to incentivize for “being a more complete person”, but this platform could be a first step.

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