Thursday, September 23, 2021

Text alerts spur parental engagement


Sometimes, a little thing like an automated text message from a teacher to a parent can lead to enhanced parental engagement in their child’s schoolwork, NPR reports.

Many times, ed tech providers try to sell something with a lot of bells and whistles that bring in lots of profit for the manufacturer of the technology. These entrepreneurs and educators alike too often ignore the fact that many parents don’t have access to the technology to access the latest and greatest toy—or the money to buy it—and forget about looking for solutions that almost every parent in America has access to today: cellphones.

“If we can adopt a technology that is almost universally accessible to parents, it has positive outcomes on their kid, and it doesn’t cost very much, that seems like a positive thing to me,” NPR quoted Justin Reich, who studies education technology at MIT, as saying.

Volumes of research point to the likelihood that increasing the engagement of parents can have positive effects on schoolwork or school attendance. So, Peter Bergman and Eric W Chan of Teachers College, Columbia University, wrote in a paper that is as yet unpublished but made available to NPR, “In a field experiment across 22 middle and high schools, we [sent] automated text-message alerts to parents about their child’s missed assignments, grades and class absences. The intervention reduces course failures by 39% and increases class attendance by 17%.”

The biggest improvements were seen in high school students, less in middle school students, but the technology to send out the text messages is pretty inexpensive for the school to use. For example, the company Twilio has a service that would cost a school that uses it $1 a month, plus ¾ cent for each text message it would send out. Other providers are probably competitive in terms of pricing.

With Twilio’s pricing, if 100 kids in a class didn’t turn in their homework or missed a class without having their parent call in during a given month, it would cost the school $1.75 to notify every one of those parents by text message that month.

Parents would be more likely to respond by calling the school or talking with their child as well. I know when the Weather Service issues a tornado warning by text or I receive an Amber Alert to look for a missing child in a vehicle with a certain license plate, I pay attention to the text message.

Send me an email, and it’s going to be too late, and my email program will probably delegate it to spam anyway. Email is cheaper, but it could also be far less effective. Report cards, though, which come out once a quarter, are at the bottom of the list when it comes to parental engagement.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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