Leveling the Playing Field of Early Childhood Education Enrollment

“We need to meet people where they are.” This is a popular refrain but it’s hard to know if its’s always good advice.

Does meeting a marginalized group where they—and their needs— lead to lower expectations or the belief that they are less capable than everybody else?

Or are accommodations an opportunity to ensure greater and more equitable access to resources for community members?

A recent study conducted by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans explores whether or not communication with families through text messaging can improve engagement and promote successful completion of the application process for early childhood education programs.

Each year, there are conversations surrounding the eligibility requirements for education programs and whether or not they provide a “fair” or level playing field for families of limited income and resources, specifically programs described as high-quality and high-performing.  Documentation submission, interviews and assessments are often seen by some as obvious tactics to make it more challenging for families with minimal resources (i.e. transportation, childcare, limited to no PTO benefits to request time off from work, etc.) to participate and reap the benefits of quality education programming to ensure optimal learning opportunities to their children.

For decades now, research has shown us the benefits of early access to education, yet Louisiana has yet to provide universal preschool nor the adequate funding to make affordable, high-quality child care and preschool a reality for families and providers according to the Center for American Progress’ 2018 fact sheet.

Education Research Alliance for New Orleans utilized formal text message reminders and personalized text message reminders to communicate with families regarding their process in the steps to fulfill their application requirements to secure early childhood education programming.  

The study’s results indicated the following statements:

“low-cost text message support can help parents overcome the eligibility verification barrier in the ECE enrollment process.”

Additionally, while no significant differences were noted between the formal and personalized text messages for early childhood education programs,

“Parents who received personalized text messages responded to those messages at a much higher rate (89%) than parents who received formal reminders (11%). The increased text response rate enabled administrators to respond to parents’ questions during the verification process, and provided insights about the key challenges families face in verification.”

Some questions from families focused on understanding the specific steps to verify(required documentation, accurate location to submit documentation, etc.)

“I did it [verified] thanks so much for [t]he reminders,” wrote one applicant, while others told a district staff member that they would look for her at verification events.

It’s no secret that the school admission process has been a source of frustration since the emergence of charter networks and the One App enrollment process, for both administrators and families alike. With more research, like the study conducted by Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, perhaps families and administrators can identify efficient measures to promote collaboration rather than sow divisiveness, ultimately ensuring the well-being and success of the city’s youth through more equitable and inclusive education practices.

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