By Richard Carranza, Susanna Loeb, & Benjamin York
One of the big questions facing American school districts is how to provide teachers and parents with helpful information, in a timely way, so that they can put it to good use for children.
Busy parents are inundated with school- and district-generated emails, robo-calls, and photocopied materials that are sent—and sometimes actually arrive—home. Parents and teachers alike struggle to make sense of student test-score reports that aren't always presented in a digestible format.
The point of the information provided to parents and teachers is to get them to do something with it, to act in ways that help improve student learning. But if the information isn't clear, or isn't even received, it can't possibly be put to use. The result is a big opportunity lost.
In San Francisco, the quest to provide teachers and parents with understandable, actionable information has produced two successful strategies that may hold lessons for school districts in other parts of the country. Both strategies were born of strong partnerships between the San Francisco Unified School District and outside experts—in this case, researchers from Stanford University. Now in its sixth year, this partnership has been supported by the Silver Giving Foundation, the Heising Simons Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.
The first strategy centers on parents, and has already received attention in Education Week and elsewhere for its efficacy, low cost, and digital-age currency. It's a program called Ready4K! that uses text messaging to deliver tips to the parents of preschoolers, suggesting fun and easy ways that they can support their children's early literacy development at home. During the school year, we send tips three times each week: one about a particular literacy skill, a second prompting an activity to develop that skill, and a third about how to build on it.
The most salient lesson derived from the program is that it succeeds in prompting adult behavior that helps children learn. A recent study showed that the program increased the frequency with which parents engaged in home literacy activities. Moreover, children of parents who received our texts gained the equivalent of up to three months of additional learning in some areas of literacy, compared with a randomly assigned control group of children whose parents did not get the messages.