Chloe Gibbs, an assistant professor of economics and Fellow in the Institute for Educational Initiatives, has won a three-year, $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of parenting education and length of day care on long-term child educational outcomes.
“This grant has given me the opportunity to explore, and help answer, what’s going on inside that black box of how pre-school is effective and how pre-school improves children’s outcomes,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs’ grant will enable her to work with several school districts and their state-funded pre-school programs to provide parents with a curriculum delivered through text messaging. Parents who opt in will receive a few text messages a week with tips explaining how they can encourage their children’s early literacy development at home. Gibbs sees direct benefits. “The programming has been tested and found to be effective in both changing parent’s behaviors and also improving children’s early literacy skills,” she said. “By encouraging parents to do more of this in the home, they become more engaged in their children’s school as well.”
The research will also look at which families and in which types of pre-school programs this programming is most effective. “A lot of my work is motived by the fact that children arrive at kindergarten, already exhibiting pretty dramatic differences in their early literacy and numeracy skills, and those gaps then persist. If there are ways that we can chip away at those gaps earlier, I think it can have important implications for kids going forward,” said Gibbs, who is also a faculty committee member in the Notre Dame Program for Interdisciplinary Educational Research (ND PIER). She teaches a graduate course for Ph.D. students across the social sciences on conducting field experiments with a particular focus on education.
She said she believes parents understand the importance of early childhood development and want to help their children be ready for kindergarten and achieve those milestones, but don’t always have the tools to help. “This is supposed to provide parents with very concrete, actionable, easy-to-implement strategies in real-time because they’re getting it via text message–things like reading the letters on a ‘stop’ sign and sounding out each of those letters with their children on the way to school.”
Her research will examine who these strategies impact the most. “Is it the parents who are already doing those kinds of behaviors at home, and this is a boost above and beyond what they’re doing, or is it most effective in homes where there wasn’t much of this happening and now we’ve encouraged some of it?” Gibbs asked.
Gibbs is also excited about implementing the strategies during the summer. “We’ll be testing whether or not the text message-based curriculum is more effective for children from disadvantaged backgrounds in the summer months,” she said. “Can we supplement what’s already going on so we can address what has been called summer slide, or summer setback, that kids from low socio-economic households tend to lose ground in the summer months relative to their more advantaged peers? Can we close that gap with these kinds of investments and then kids will show up at kindergarten ideally more ready?”
The knowledge gained as a result of this research project will provide valuable information to help form education policies in the United States. Gibbs said she would not have been able to move the work ahead without the grant. “You have to be in a place like Notre Dame that has the kinds of research resources so you can pursue these opportunities, build the relationships with program providers so you can do the field work, and then of course have the financial support to carry it out. It’s nice to see when you have questions that you really want to pursue and you think are policy relevant and will affect children’s lives—to see all of those things fall into place and to be able to carry it forward is very exciting.”