Texting Improves Literacy in Low-Income Children


Low-income children are traditionally exposed to approximately thirty million words less by the time they reach 4-years-old, when compared to same-age children in other socioeconomic classes.  This is astounding!  Amongst the complicated gap between low- and middle-classes, this seems to be caused not by a lack of intelligence, but rather by a lack of access to additional books and learning games outside the classroom. Primarily affecting minority groups, this literacy trend has disastrous long-term development effects on these children and our society as a whole.  However, the good people at Stanford are once again attempting to revolutionize our world, using text messaging to bridge this “word gap.”

Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis has created a program, READY4K!, that sends weekly text messages to parents of preschoolers with small “text tips” for the parents to use during their time together as a family.  For example, a tip might say “Say two words to your child that start with the same sound, like happy & healthy.”  A tip might also suggest a fun word game to play.  The program is meant to be simple, to integrate into the daily routines of families, rather than adding to parents’ ever-growing to-do lists.

What’s more, the program appears to be successful!  Beta-testing of the program took place in San Francisco using 440 low-income families from 31 area preschools.  Half the families received three literacy texts each week, while the other half received placebo messages (district alerts).  Families in the experimental group (those receiving the literacy texts) were approximated to have gained an additional two to three months of classroom teaching.  That’s impressive.  READY4K! is easily scalable as well.  Researchers report that implementing the program in schools will cost each family only $1.

Parents are, of course, every child’s first teacher.  READY4K! utilizes the presence of parents to partake in “teachable moments,” moments during a typical day where parents spend time with their kids, whether at the dinner table, during baths, or during play time. One of the main causes for the 30-million-word gap between low- and middle-class families is a lack of resources – a lack of additional books and games that help make learning easier for so many.  READY4K! helps to bridge both the word and resource gaps by providing an inexpensive way for families to have these “teachable moments” without needing to purchase additional books and games.


Kenneth D. Burke


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