Our research demonstrates that the Tips·by·Text program increases parents’ involvement at home and school, ultimately leading to learning gains for children [brief, paper]. The effects of the program are particularly pronounced for children who begin with the weakest skills, suggesting that texting programs may help lessen the achievement gap from an early age.
Broadly, our research program aims to understand what barriers parents and caregivers face in helping children build early literacy, math and social-emotional skills, and which interventions are most effective at overcoming these barriers. We evaluate how these barriers and effective interventions vary across groups, and we seek to identify which specific parenting practices most benefit children and youth. In studying Tips·by·Text — both the effects of the program and the mechanisms underlying these effects — we use a series of random control trials. With this approach, we can distinguish the effects of the program on parent and child outcomes from the effects of a variety of other factors affecting our participants.
Our research shows that program design matters [brief, paper]. Therefore, we continue to investigate what constitutes the most effective program in terms of both content and structure. Ongoing studies seek to identify:
- The ideal number of texts per week
- Whether texts delivered on weekdays or weekends are more effective
- What factors lead participants to opt out of the program [brief, paper]
- Whether programs that target a combination of literacy, math and social-emotional skills are more effective than those that target literacy skills alone [brief, paper]
- Whether texts that are personalized and differentiated for students have better outcomes than general texts [brief, paper]
Furthermore, we study Tips·by·Text in a broad range of contexts in an effort to understand which approaches work best for which populations and under which conditions. We have studies underway in different school districts around the country and the globe, in different languages, and targeting children of different age groups from pre-school through middle school. We also recruit widely: our pre-school program adult participants sign up through libraries, community centers, health clinics, door-to-door-recruiting and advertising, and we have recently reached beyond the parent population to deliver our program to informal caregivers — generally family, friends and neighbors — who care for young children outside of a formal daycare or preschool setting. Early results show that these caregivers are motivated to help the children in their care build important skills, but often face informational and behavioral barriers. Our text messaging program helps caregivers surmount these barriers and support child development.
The data generated by these varied studies allows us to assess which factors matter in different settings and with regard to different target groups, and to continually refine the Tips·by·Text program, tailoring how it is delivered and to whom. This goal of program refinement and ongoing assessment is aided by research work that goes beyond tracking student outcomes. In addition to noting that important metric, we conduct interviews and surveys to elicit detailed information about parent and caregiver attitudes and behaviors; we gather focus groups to ensure that our texts are culturally sensitive and appropriate; and we work with native speakers when English early literacy concepts do not translate smoothly into Spanish, Chinese and Arabic.
This ongoing research project at the Annenberg Institute has already demonstrated the power of harnessing widely available and affordable texting technology to reach parents, caregivers and children, particularly those who have been underserved by traditional parenting support programs. Going forward, the Tips·by·Text program will continue to combine rigorous research and innovative program design to support parents and caregivers in enabling children to build vital skills for academic success and flourishing lives.