Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction - Madison, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction; the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families; ParentPowered Technologies
“To assist parents and close the learning gap, children in poverty need year-round, supplementary support both inside and outside the classroom. By working to engage parents in early childhood learning, we can help close the learning gap and broaden the futures of those most in need.”
A child’s earliest years are key to their future success. The learning that occurs over these years can have a significant impact on a child’s future educational success and wellbeing. Yet, childhood learning opportunities vary greatly and are dependent on the stability of a child’s family and community. Not surprisingly, children growing up in less supportive environments face greater challenges in the classroom. Research finds that a learning gap, or a difference in learning ability, can be detected between students as early as kindergarten. When unaddressed, this gap only widens with each year of schooling. Eventually, it leads to a gap in the student’s academic, social, and career success. It becomes a gap in life.
In a 2002 study, Valerie Lee and David Burkam found that most of the learning gap happens in early elementary school. And, because disadvantaged youth are behind before they even walk into their first classroom, they continue to fall behind their peers with each consecutive year. The learning gap further complicates the lives of disadvantaged youth by delaying their grade promotion and diminishing their confidence. When it comes to graduating from high school and earning a four-year college degree, the learning gap determines a student’s chance of future success, since these degrees are necessary for good jobs.
Children in poverty are raised by parents in poverty, and parents construct their children’s learning environments. Because the parents of disadvantaged youth often struggled in school themselves, many just aren’t equipped to encourage their children’s learning. To assist parents and close the learning gap, children in poverty need year-round, supplementary learning support both inside and outside the classroom. We can help close the learning gap and broaden the futures of those most in need by engaging parents in their children’s education. But we’ve yet to identify the best ways to support the learning of children in poverty. To pave the way for better futures, we need to know what works.
The classic Ready4K text-messaging program is designed to help parents play an active role in supporting their children’s literacy skills. Over the 9-month preschool academic year, all participating parents receive a weekly text message that shows them how to create everyday learning opportunities for their children. These learning opportunities are fun, easy, and fit into a busy family’s daily routine.
In this intervention, Ready4K provides additional text-messaging content during the summertime. So, in addition to receiving text messages during the academic year, some parents also receive text messages over the three summer months before their children enter kindergarten. Of the parents who receive these summer text messages, some receive content that is specifically tailored to their geographic location, such as announcements about local library programs and other community events.
Does providing parents with Ready4K’s text-messaging content over the summer months have an impact on children’s kindergarten readiness? Does it matter if this content is tailored specifically to their geographic location?
- Children whose parents participate in the summertime Ready4K text-messaging program will have higher literacy and school readiness scores when they enter kindergarten than those whose parents do not participate.
- These children will have better long-term academic outcomes, measured by 3rd-grade test scores.
- Parents who receive Ready4K’s summer text messages will be more engaged in their children’s learning than parents who do not.
- The children of parents who receive the pre-kindergarten summer content from Ready4K will have even higher scores than children whose parents receive only 9 months of text messages.
- The children with the highest kindergarten entry scores will have parents who receive location-specific Ready4K content over the summer months.
Research Study Design
The Ready4K study is a randomized controlled trial implemented across 3 Head Start and Ready4K communities in Wisconsin. Because these schools subsidize enrollment costs, most participating families are low-income. This study aims to measure the impact of Ready4K’s summer text-messaging program on children’s literacy development.
At each of the 3 sites, participating families are randomized into 3 groups. The first group receives Ready4K text messages over the 9 months of the preschool academic year. Because all parents who enroll in the Ready4K program receive these messages, these parents serve as the study’s control group. The second group receives the usual 9 months of messaging plus text messages over the 3 summer months leading up to kindergarten. The third group receives a full year of Ready4K text messaging, plus summer content tailored to the recipient’s community. These 2 groups of parents serve as the study’s treatment arms.
The LEO research team is studying the impact of the Ready4K summer text-messaging service by comparing the kindergarten literacy and readiness scores of children across the control group and 2 treatment groups. LEO researchers are also studying the long-term outcomes of participating students by comparing their 3rd-grade test scores.