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Leveraging Text Messages to Mitigate Chronic Absenteeism

Chronic student absenteeism tends to be higher in Kindergarten than other primary school grades, so Kindergarten is a good time to intervene. But how? A new study published in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk unpacks a promising idea based on a text-based, parent-school communication system.

Researchers Kenneth Smythe-Leistico and Lindsay C. Page piloted this intervention in one school, gauging impact with comparisons to the school’s prior trend and to a statistically similar, synthetic school. That the pilot seems to have lowered chronic absenteeism substantially makes the intervention a candidate for larger field-study using randomized assignment.

Four aspects of the intervention’s design merit attention. First, the communication system is two-way, thus opening a new channel for parents to communicate with schools. Second, the tone of messages sent by the school was intentionally supportive, never punitive. Third, messaging took place in English or Spanish, a feature appreciated by the school community. Finally, automated out-going texts were followed by personalized outreach by bilingual AmeriCorps volunteers.