Panel: Leveraging Behavioral Insights to Support Parents' Engagement in Children's Learning

Friday, November 9, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Jefferson - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Rebecca Ryan, Georgetown University
Discussants:  Anna Gassman-Pines, Duke University and Emily Schmitt, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The Impact of Defaults on Technology Adoption, and Its Underappreciation By Policymakers 
Peter Bergman, Columbia University and Todd Rogers, Harvard University

Supporting Parent Time Spent on Educational Activities Among Preschoolers in Head Start: Experimental Evidence Applying Insights from Behavioral Economics
Lisa Gennetian1, Maria Marti2, Joy Lorenzo Kennedy1, Jin Han Kim1 and Helena Duch2, (1)New York University, (2)Columbia University

Behavioral science deepens conventional views of human behavior, documenting a range of biases, mental shortcuts, and mental simplifications that intersect with human decision-making. By understanding these basic cognitive biases that can interfere with decision-making, researchers can improve upon or create scalable approaches to support people’s intentions and follow through in ways that benefit themselves and society.

Insights from the behavioral sciences have been leveraged to design low cost scalable solutions to a range of public policy problems in health, financial behavior, environmental conservation, and criminal justice. Only more recently have these insights entered into education and family policy. The proposed panel includes four papers that present new data from behaviorally-informed field experiments designed to support parents’ engagement in children’s learning in a variety of learning environments including schools, libraries, and home environments.

The field experiments described in these papers address a variety of cognitive biases. One such bias is the tendency to discount the future. It is well known that future outcomes are underemphasized (or equivalently, over-discounted) relative to immediate outcomes, making it difficult for parents to give up things they enjoy today, or invest in something difficult to do today, for the (undervalued or miscalculated benefits of the) future. Under scenarios that demand high self-control such present bias affects decision-making. Behavioral tools such as goal setting, reminders, and social rewards have shown potential in managing present bias.

Other biases emerge as byproducts of frictions in information and communication: Standard, high-friction ways that institutions (e.g., schools and early childhood settings) implement communication systems with parents typically have low or erratic uptake and adoption of the curriculum or information. The papers in this panel show how simplifying the implementation process, or decreasing hassle factors, increases uptake and use, with a particular emphasis on the structure of choices and the role of automatic enrollment.

Specifically, Bergman and Rogers show how enrollment defaults affect the take up and impact of a novel technology that aims to help parents improve student achievement. The technology engages parents by providing high-frequency, actionable information about their child’s academic progress. Gennetian and colleagues focus on a package of behavioral tools that address three ways that parents can miscalculate their decisions in the context of their involvement in Head Start preschool programs: attention, estimation or judgment of relevance of activities or services for their children, and calculation of future benefits of their time investments in their children’s development. Castleman and Meyer present a unique behavioral mapping of the ways in which parents of school-age children interact with the Brooklyn Public Library and they identify the behavioral biases and decision-making points that can interrupt parents’ intended use of this important public resource in a way that optimizes their children’s learning opportunities. Finally, Mayer and colleagues present work demonstrating the effectiveness of a behaviorally-informed intervention to manage present bias and growth mindset beliefs to increase parents’ time spent with their young children on math learning in the home environment. 

Our two discussants represent both researcher and policy practitioner perspectives.

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