What is It About Communicating With Parents?

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Event Type: 
Seminar Series
Date and Time: 
Monday, October 23, 2017
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Eric Bettinger
Stanford University

Informing parents about children’s attendance and grades has been shown to significantly raise educational achievement. However, there is no evidence for why communication with parents works: is it mainly because information lowers monitoring costs, or is it mainly because it increases the salience of monitoring benefits? The distinction matters – if salience is the key driver behind those effects, nudging could potentially produce even larger impacts, and at much lower cost. To decompose the effects of communication into the two mechanisms, we run a field experiment with 19,300 ninth-graders in São Paulo, Brazil. Math teachers fill-in a platform with information about their students’ behavior, and we randomly assign parents to different messages over SMS: some parents receive information provided by teachers, some just receive an awareness message emphasizing the importance of paying attention to that dimension of children’s behavior, and others

receive no message at all. We find that while communication has large impacts on attendance, test scores and promotion rates, most of the effects are driven by salience: awareness messages improve outcomes by 89-126% of the effects of information. Consistent with the behavioral mechanism, salience effects are larger for least attentive parents; moreover, higher-frequency communication and alternating delivery times significantly increase effect sizes. The optimal combination of features for nudging parents improves students’ test scores by 0.33 standard deviation, almost 4-fold the effect of information alone.