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Texting increases parental involvement and improves student performance

Mar 3, 2017

Research shows when parents are involved and engaged in their kids' education, it improves student achievement. Students earn higher grades and test scores, show improved behavior and miss fewer school days.

But with both kids and parents having increasingly busy lives, getting involved can be easier said than done

I heard a story on NPR this week about researchers from Columbia University who experimented with improving parental involvement utilizing something you may be holding right now: your phone.

Peter Bergman and Eric W. Chan of Teacher's College conducted an experiment across 22 middle and high schools in West Virginia's largest school district. The authors said in a recently released paper:

…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%.

Researchers built software that communicated directly with the electronic grade book that teachers were already using, according to NPR. The software sent automated messages like this:

Parent alert: Paulette has 2 missing assignments in math class. For more information log online.

And although most parents didn't follow up online, they contacted the school more often and researchers assume they talked to their kids – resulting in improved academic performance and attendance.

This is not the first time text messaging has been tested as a means of academic improvement. NPR previously reported on a pair of studies aimed at getting more students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

In one experiment, researchers sent high school seniors text reminders about steps to finish the FAFSA, resulting in those students being five to eight percentage points more likely to enroll into a two-year institution.

The second experiment found when community college freshmen received text-message reminders about steps to renew their FAFSA, they were 12 percentage points more likely to persist into sophomore year.

My daughter's school implemented technology this year to open the lines of communication between parents, teachers and students. Her classroom utilizes ClassDojo, an app that allows her teacher to message back and forth directly with parents and track students' behavior.

It's an easy way for me to send her teacher a quick message or get an update between parent-teacher conferences. And the best part is that I can do it from my phone, which I always have with me. That may be why these text messaging experiments have proven successful. Justin Reich studies education technology at MIT. He told NPR:

I think there is a serious problem in ed-tech funding, which is that there's too much interest in things that look sexy, that are on the horizon, and are untested and unproven. 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.