Text-Messaging Parents Can Help Kids Learn to Read—Especially If the Curriculum Is Personalized and Differentiated

Reading growth with text-messaging

Educational interventions based on behavioral economics principles have shown promise for combatting some of the persistent disparities in education outcomes. Researchers have studied text-messaging “nudges” and found them to be successful at all levels of education, from pre-K to the transition to college.

With this in mind, Christopher Doss, Erin M. Fahle, Susanna Loeb, and Benjamin York dug deeper to look at how personalizing text messages to the recipient could make a difference. Their work aims to identify the importance of personalization and differentiation within a text-messaging program designed to help parents of kindergarteners support the literacy development of their children at home.
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Text-Messaging Program READY4K! Supports Early Literacy Development in the Home

Sample Ready4K texts

Racial and socioeconomic gaps in academic achievement begin early in life, with large gaps in skills present by the time children enter kindergarten. One factor contributing to this educational inequality is the great variation in home learning experiences.

Researchers and practitioners have taken a variety of approaches to help parents support the literacy development of their children. Examples include interventions during doctors’ visits or hosting workshops for parents at schools. Unfortunately, these traditional approaches are hampered by their relative infrequency and/or substantial demands on parents’ time.

Benjamin York, Susanna Loeb, and Christopher Doss wondered whether something as common as a text message could improve the home learning experience. “In this study, we field a randomized control trial to test the efficacy of a text messaging intervention that leverages lessons from behavioral economics on overcoming barriers to adult behavior change.”
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When the Fire Goes Out, Children Face Lasting Effects: Evidence from the Indonesian Forest Fires

pregnant woman

Recent devastating wildfires have drawn attention to how climate change is expected to make weather phenomena more unpredictable and wildfires more frequent and difficult to control. Little is known about how the accompanying air pollution affects long-term outcomes in children, who are especially vulnerable to its effects.

Maria Rosales-Rueda and Margaret Triyana analyzed the impacts of early-life exposure to the 1997 Indonesian forest fires on children’s long-term health outcomes in Indonesia. These fires were among the most intense fires in Indonesia’s history, emitting levels of particulate matter similar to the hazardous haze from agricultural burning or chronic exposure to indoor air pollution generated by the use of biomass fuels.
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Having More Siblings Reduces Education Attainment, but Not by Much

Two trends are often observed as a country develops: a decline in family size and a rise in education attainment. Are they related? In particular, could the fall in family size be one reason for the increase in education levels? Hui Ren Tan (Boston University) considered this question within the context of the 19th and early 20th century United States.
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Unintended Consequences—How Targeting Schools for Special Benefits in France Can Do More Harm Than Good

student reading

Compensatory education policies—policies aimed at offsetting educational inequalities between socially and academically disadvantaged children and more advantaged students—are widely used and represent a significant part of public education spending in many countries. In France, they correspond to about ten percent of the annual spending per pupil. They provide underprivileged schools with additional resources to compensate for social and academic disadvantages. In a new JHR paper, Laurent Davezies (CREST) and Manon Garrouste (University of Lille) propose some evidence to explain why these programs are often not working as intended.
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Does Parents’ Access to Family Planning Increase Children’s Opportunities? Evidence from the War on Poverty and the Early Years of Title X

For the past several decades, the U.S. government has invested heavily in anti-poverty programs, like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Head Start, aimed at closing the resource gap for disadvantaged children and improving their long-term outcomes. There is a vast literature studying the impacts of such programs, yet there is one potential source of disparity that has been largely overlooked: family planning.
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Is watching TV bad for you? It depends…

Since television was introduced to a large audience around the mid-20th century, its effects have been debated. A widespread concern has been that television encourages a particularly passive form of engagement, and thus may damage intellectual development. But the existing empirical evidence is not conclusive. Øystein Hernæs, Simen Markussen, and Knut Røed saw the deregulation of television in Norway as an opportunity to explore what a large-scale change in television consumption can teach us about the effects of TV on young people.
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Study: Program with Tablets and Texts Improves Family Reading Time

tablets

“Tablets and texts nudge parents to read to kids” describes a new JHR-published study aimed at finding ways to help families increase parents’ time reading to their children. The Parents and Children Together (PACT) experiment involved having parents set goals for reading time. Each family received a tablet preloaded with children’s books, and the parents received text prompts to follow up on reading goals. They also received weekly feedback on the actual amount of time they spent reading and earned digital rewards for meeting goals.

According to one of the researchers, Susan Mayer, a professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, the goal was to create a program using behavioral tools “to help parents overcome cognitive roadblocks to spending time reading to their children.”

The researchers report two key findings:
“Parents in the treatment group doubled the amount of time they spent reading to their child.”
and
“Parents in the treatment group read an average of almost five books per week, while those who were not, read an average of two or three.”

For the full study, see “Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Parental Engagement: The Parents and Children Together Intervention,” by Susan E. Mayer, Ariel Kalil, Philip Oreopoulos and Sebastian Gallegos.

Photo credit: Robert Kozloff, University of Chicago

Higher quality interactions between caregivers and children in daycare improve child development

Although there is a rich body of evidence on the effects of preschool or daycare attendance, especially for the United States, substantially less is known about critical dimensions of the quality of these services, in particular for very young children. M. Caridad Araujo, Marta Dormal, and Norbert Schady (Inter-American Development Bank) developed a research project with the goal of understanding how the quality of caregiver–child interactions in daycare affects child development.
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