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Parents and communities

Jon Valant, Lindsay Weixler.

In order for school choice reforms to fulfill their potential, school choosers must be informed about their options. We conducted a randomized controlled trial during the school choice application period in New Orleans to assess the effects of providing information to parents. Families with children entering pre-K, kindergarten, or ninth grade were assigned to one of two treatment groups or a control group. A “performance” group received lists of the highest-performing schools or programs available (via U.S. mail, email, and text message). A “neighborhood” group received lists of the schools or programs in their home geographic zone. We find that the performance treatment made applicants significantly more likely to request high-performing schools, though the effects were concentrated among high school choosers. The performance treatment had especially strong effects among families of students with disabilities. The neighborhood treatment had only modest effects. We consider these findings in the context of questions about the role of information in school choice markets, as well as which families may be in particular need of support.

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Rajeev Darolia, Sam Owens, John Tyler.

The opioid crisis is widely recognized as one of the most important public health emergencies of our time, and an issue that is particularly acute for rural communities. We propose a simple model of how opioids in a community can impact the education outcomes of children based on both the extent of exposure to opioids in the community and the child’s vulnerability to any given level of exposure. Next, we document the spatial dimensions of the intersection of the opioid crisis and standardized test scores using national data, with a focus on rural communities. Finally, we estimate the extent to which variation in one measure of the opioid crisis, drug-related mortality, is related to variation in test scores. We find strong relationships between the two, as well as evidence that the relationship is particularly salient for 3rd grade students in rural communities.

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Christopher Doss, Hans Fricke, Susanna Loeb.

This study assesses the effects of two text-messaging programs for parents that aim to support the development of math skills in prekindergarten students. One program focuses purely on math, while the other takes an identical approach but focuses on a combination of math, literacy, and social-emotional skills. We find no evidence that the math-only program benefits children’s development. However, the combination program shows greater promise, particularly for girls. Quantile regressions indicate that the effects are concentrated in the lower half of the outcome distribution. Results imply that girls may have started the year behind boys in math and caught up to and even surpassed boys when their parents have access to the program that combines topics. Our results also provide evidence that the structure of behavioral interventions can affect who benefits from the program, sometimes in unexpected ways, to produce meaningful differences in outcomes. We discuss and provide evidence for various hypotheses that could explain these differences.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Alexander Bolves.

We study the adoption and implementation of a new mobile communication app among a sample of 132 New York City public schools. The app provides a platform for sharing general announcements and news as well as engaging in personalized two-way communication with individual parents. We provide participating schools with free access to the app and randomize schools to receive intensive support (training, guidance, monitoring, and encouragement) for maximizing the efficacy of the app. Although user supports led to higher levels of communication within the app in the treatment year, overall usage remained low and declined in the following year when treatment schools no longer received intensive supports. We find few subsequent effects on perceptions of communication quality or student outcomes. We leverage rich internal user data to explore how take-up and usage patterns varied across staff and school characteristics. These analyses help to identify early adopters and reluctant users, revealing both opportunities and obstacles to engaging parents through new communication technology.

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Philip Oreopoulos.

This article takes stock of where the field of behavioral science applied to education policy seems to be at, which avenues seem promising and which ones seem like dead ends. I present a curated set of studies rather than an exhaustive literature review, categorizing interventions by whether they nudge (keep options intact) or “shove” (restrict choice), and whether they apply a high or low touch (whether they use face-to-face interaction or not). Many recent attempts to test large-scale low touch nudges find precisely estimated null effects, suggesting we should not expect letters, text messages, and online exercises to serve as panaceas for addressing education policy’s key challenges.  Programs that impose more choice-limiting structure to a youth’s routine, like mandated tutoring, or programs that nudge parents, appear more promising.

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Carly D. Robinson, Raj Chande, Simon Burgess, Todd Rogers.

Many educational interventions encourage parents to engage in their child’s education as if parental time and attention is limitless. Sadly, though, it is not. Successfully encouraging certain parental investments may crowd out other productive behaviors. A randomized field experiment (N = 2,212) assessed the impact of an intervention in which parents of middle and high school students received multiple text messages per week encouraging them to ask their children specific questions tied to their science curriculum. The intervention increased parent-child at-home conversations about science but did not detectably impact science test scores. At the same time, the intervention decreased parent engagement in other, potentially productive, behaviors, such as turning off the television or monitoring their child’s studying. These findings illustrate that parent engagement interventions are not costless: there are opportunity costs to shifting parental effort.

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Jessica Lasky-Fink, Carly D. Robinson, Hedy Chang, Todd Rogers.

Many states mandate districts or schools notify parents when students have missed multiple unexcused days of school. We report a  randomized experiment (N = 131,312) evaluating the impact of sending parents truancy notifications modified to target behavioral barriers that can hinder effective parental engagement. Modified truancy notifications that used simplified language, emphasized parental efficacy, and highlighted the negative incremental effects of missing school reduced absences by 0.07 days compared to the standard, legalistic, and punitively-worded notification—an estimated 40% improvement over the standard truancy notification. This work illustrates how behavioral insights and randomized experiments can be used to improve administrative communications in education.

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Adam Altmejd, Andres Barrios-Fernandez, Marin Drlje, Joshua Goodman, Michael Hurwitz, Dejan Kovac, Christine Mulhern, Christopher Neilson, Jonathan Smith.

Family and social networks are widely believed to influence important life decisions but identifying their causal effects is notoriously difficult. Using admissions thresholds that directly affect older but not younger siblings’ college options, we present evidence from the United States, Chile, Sweden and Croatia that older siblings’ college and major choices can significantly influence their younger siblings’ college and major choices. On the extensive margin, an older sibling’s enrollment in a better college increases a younger sibling’s probability of enrolling in college at all, especially for families with low predicted probabilities of enrollment. On the intensive margin, an older sibling’s choice of college or major increases the probability that a younger sibling applies to and enrolls in that same college or major. Spillovers in major choice are stronger when older siblings enroll and succeed in more selective and higher-earning majors. The observed spillovers are not well-explained by price, income, proximity or legacy effects, but are most consistent with older siblings transmitting otherwise unavailable information about the college experience and its potential returns. The importance of such personally salient information may partly explain persistent differences in college-going rates by geography, income, and other determinants of social networks.

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Umut Özek.

This study examines the effects of internal migration driven by severe natural disasters on students in host communities, and the mechanisms behind these effects, using the large influx of migrant students into Florida public schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. I find significant adverse effects of the influx in the first year on existing student test scores, disciplinary problems, and student mobility that vanish entirely in the second year. These adverse effects are particularly pronounced among higher-performing students who were proficient on prior year tests: A 5-percentage point increase in migrant share at the school-cohort level decreases test scores of these students by 0.09 standard deviations in math (0.07σ in ELA), increases disciplinary incidents by 50 percent, and student mobility by 44 percent in the first year. I also find evidence that compensatory resource allocation within schools is an important factor driving the adverse effects. In particular, the results provide evidence that schools reallocate resources – teachers in particular – in a compensatory fashion when faced with a large influx of high-need students, increasing the likelihood that higher-performing students are assigned to less effective teachers. 

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Anna Maier, Julia Daniel, Jeannie Oakes, Livia Lam.

This report synthesizes the research evidence about the impact of community schools on student and school outcomes. Its aim is to support and inform school, community, district, and state leaders as they consider, propose, or implement community schools as a strategy for providing equitable, high-quality education to all young people. We conclude that well-implemented community schools lead to improvement in student and school outcomes and contribute to meeting the educational needs of low-achieving students in high-poverty schools, and sufficient research exists to meet the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) standard for an evidence-based intervention.

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