Parents play an important role in their children’s education, but there are substantial differences in the home learning experiences of children by socioeconomic status. In this seminar, Susanna Loeb and Ben York discuss the results of a randomized control trial of READY4K!, a text messaging program for parents of preschoolers designed to help them support their children’s literacy development. Susanna Loeb and Ben York sent parents in the treatment group three texts per week about an early literacy skill or cluster of skills for the entire school year. About every two weeks, they sent one “placebo” text to parents in the control group about the district’s kindergarten enrollment process or required vaccinations. They found that READY4K! had significant positive effects on parents’ home literacy activities, parental involvement in the school (as reported by teachers), and children’s scores on a spring early literacy assessment. Given the extremely low cost and widespread use of text messaging, texting is an attractive alternative for supporting parents.
Substantial systematic differences exist in children’s home learning experiences. The few existing parenting programs that have shown promise often are not widely accessible, either due to the demands they place on parents’ time and effort or cost. In this study, we evaluate the effects of READY4K!, a text messaging program for parents of preschoolers designed to help them support their children’s literacy development. The program targets the behavioral barriers to good parenting by breaking down the complexity of parenting into small steps that are easy-to-achieve and providing continuous support for an entire school year. We find that READY4K! positively affected the extent to which parents engaged in home literacy activities with their children by 0.22 to 0.34 standard deviations, as well as parental involvement at school by 0.13 to 0.19 standard deviations. Increases in parental activity at home and school translated into student learning gains in some areas of early literacy, ranging from approximately 0.21 to 0.34 standard deviations. The widespread use, low cost, and ease of scalability of text messaging make texting an attractive approach to supporting parenting practices.