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Parents and communities

Lindsay Weixler, Jon Valant, Daphna Bassok, Justin B. Doromal, Alica Gerry.

The early childhood enrollment process involves searching for programs, applying, verifying eligibility(for publicly funded seats), and enrolling. Many families do not complete the process. We conducted a randomized controlled trial to assess strategies for communicating with families as they verify eligibility. Working with administrators in New Orleans, we randomly assigned families to receive either: (1) the district’s usual, modest communications, (2) the usual communications plus weekly text-message reminders formal in tone, or (3) the usual communications plus weekly text-messages reminders friendly and personal in tone. Text-message reminders increased verification rates by seven percentage points (regardless of tone), and personalized messages increased enrollment rates for some groups. The exchanges between parents and administrators reveal the key obstacles that parents confronted.

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Kalena Cortes, Hans Fricke, Susanna Loeb, David Song, Ben York.

The time children spend with their parents affects their development. Parenting programs can help parents use that time more effectively. Text-messaged-based parenting curricula have proven an effective means of supporting positive parenting practices by providing easy and fun activities that reduce informational and behavioral barriers. These programs may be more effective if delivered during times when parents are particularly in need of support, such as after work, or, alternatively when parents have more time to interact with their child, such as on a day off of work. This study compares the effects of an early childhood text-messaging program sent during the weekend to the same program sent on weekdays. We find that sending the text messages on the weekend is, on average, more beneficial to children’s literacy and math development. This effect is particularly strong for initially lower achieving children, while the weekday texts show some benefits for higher achieving children on higher order skills. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the parents of lower achieving students, on average, face such high barriers during weekdays that supports are not enough to overcome these barriers, while for parents of higher achieving students, weekday texts are more effective because weekdays are more challenging, but not so difficult as to be untenable for positive parenting. In sum, the findings suggest that parenting support works best when parents have time, attention, and need.

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Alex Eble, Feng Hu.

We study the transmission of beliefs about gender differences in math ability from adults to children and how this affects girls’ math performance relative to boys. We exploit randomly assigned variation in the proportion of a child’s middle school classmates whose parents believe boys are better than girls at learning math. An increase in exposure to peers whose parents report this belief increases a child’s likelihood of believing it, with similar effects for boys and girls and greater effects from peers of the same gender. This exposure also affects children’s perceived difficulty of math, aspirations, and academic performance, generating gains for boys and losses for girls. These effects are not driven by other sources of peer effects, such as peer cognitive ability, peer parent traits such as education and income, or the gender composition of the classroom.

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Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, Laura M. Talpey, Ludger Woessmann.
Concerns about the breadth of the U.S. income distribution and limited intergenerational mobility have led to a focus on educational achievement gaps by socio-economic status (SES).  Uintertemporally linked assessments from NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA, we trace the achievement of U.S. student cohorts born between 1954 and 2001.  Achievement gaps between the top and bottom deciles and the top and bottom quartiles of the SES distribution have been large and remarkably constant for a near half century.  These unwavering gaps have not been offset by overall improvements in achievement levels, which have risen at age 14 but remained unchanged at age 17 for the most recent quarter century.  The long-term failure of major educational policies to alter SES gaps suggests a need to reconsider standard approaches to mitigating disparities.

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Margot Jackson, Tate Kihara.

Educational inequality in the health of U.S. children—what social scientists refer to as the “educational gradient” in health—is present at birth for virtually every marker of health, and increases throughout childhood.   However, a puzzling contradiction to this pattern has been observed among the growing population of youth in immigrant families.  Some evidence suggests an ambiguous relationship between education and health among immigrant families, with a flat relationship between maternal education and maternal health behaviors and children’s birth outcomes, and a stronger relationship as children become adolescents.  Does an educational gradient in health emerge among children in immigrant families during childhood and adolescence?  To date, we lack a prospective examination of how the gradient changes from birth throughout childhood and adolescence among this population.  Moreover, while the dominant explanation for a weaker gradient among children with immigrant parents centers on the family setting, we know little about family-level dynamics among the same immigrant families as children age.  Using national, longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study, we examine the association between maternal education and children’s health (measured by mothers’ ratings) over the early life course (birth through age 15) among children of immigrants and children of native-born parents, and consider whether changes in children’s economic status and family composition contribute to the educational gradient, or lack thereof, in child health.  Analyses reveal that: (1) maternal education is strongly predictive of health, even among children of immigrants; (2) immigrant status does not appear to be protective for health within educational groups, as evidenced by poorer health among children of immigrants whose mothers have the lowest level of education, as compared to children of natives; (3) children in the least-educated immigrant families are experiencing better health trajectories as they age than children in similar native-born families; and (4) accounting for economic conditions and family composition does not reduce the size of the gradient over time. 

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Emily Rauscher.

Educational assortative mating patterns in the U.S. have changed since the 1960s, but we know little about the effects of these patterns on children, particularly on infant health.  Rising educational homogamy may alter prenatal contexts through parental stress and resources, with implications for inequality. Using 1969-1994 NVSS birth data and aggregate cohort-state census measures of spousal similarity of education and labor force participation as instrumental variables (IV), this study estimates effects of parental educational similarity on infant health.  Controlling for both maternal and paternal education, results support family systems theory and suggest that parental educational homogamy is beneficial for infant health while hypergamy is detrimental.  These effects are stronger in later cohorts and are generally limited to mothers with more education.  Hypogamy estimates are stable by cohort, suggesting that rising female hypogamy may have limited effect on infant health.  In contrast, rising educational homogamy could have increasing implications for infant health.  Effects of parental homogamy on infant health could help explain racial inequality of infant health and may offer a potential mechanism through which inequality is transmitted between generations.

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Kalena Cortes, Hans Fricke, Susanna Loeb, David Song.

Text-message based parenting programs have proven successful in improving parental engagement and preschoolers’ literacy development. The tested programs have provided a combination of (a) general information about important literacy skills, (b) actionable advice (i.e., specific examples of such activities), and (c) encouragement. The regularity of the texts – each week throughout the school year – also provided nudges to focus parents’ attention on their children. This study seeks to identify mechanisms of the overall effect of such programs. It investigates whether the actionable advice alone drives previous study’s results and whether additional texts of actionable advice improve program effectiveness. The findings provide evidence that text messaging programs can supply too little or too much information. A single text per week is not as effective at improving parenting practices as a set of three texts that also include information and encouragement, but a set of five texts with additional actionable advice is also not as effective as the three-text approach. The results on children’s literacy development depend strongly on the child’s pre-intervention literacy skills. For children in the lowest quarter of the pre-treatment literacy assessments, only providing one example of an activity decreases literacy scores by 0.15 standard deviations relative to the original intervention. Literacy scores of children in higher quarters are marginally higher with only one tip per week. We find no positive effects of increasing to five texts per week.

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