Default settings play a significant role in shaping our experiences and interactions with technology. In the realm of technology adoption, default opt-in features can have a profound effect on whether individuals embrace new tools and their subsequent impact, particularly as it relates to family engagement and communication tactics. This post explores the relationship between the opt-out model, technology adoption, and the eventual influence they both have on student learning outcomes.
Technology almost always comes to market with a set of defaults. These are pre-set options or configurations that guide users through a process, intended to optimize their overall experience. They serve as a starting point, and individuals often stick with defaults without considering alternatives. This is particularly important in the context of implementing technology designed to serve teachers and families. What is paramount, however, to ensuring sustained adoption of technology for these audiences is users' initial experiences and overall ease of use.
This where opt-in defaults play a crucial role that most developers overlook. When it comes to technology adoption, defaults can act as a double-edged sword. On one hand, well-designed defaults can simplify the onboarding process and encourage users to explore new tools. They provide a seamless and intuitive experience, minimizing barriers to entry. However, default settings that are poorly chosen or not customizable may hinder adoption rates. Users might find themselves grappling with features that don't align with their needs or preferences, leading to frustration and disengagement.
Default opt-in settings on family engagement tools like FASTalk, have a pivotal influence on the impact technology has on learning outcomes. When families are automatically opted-in to receive communications and updates from schools on their child's curriculum and what they're learning in the classroom, the likelihood of them actively choosing to opt-out drastically diminishes. This simple default setting requires passive consent from families, while simultaneously serving as the key to opening the doors to active participation and collaboration at home.
By harnessing the power of the opt-out model, organizations like ours are able to bridge the communication gap between schools and homes, taking the load off teachers' hectic schedules as well as the pressure off busy parents and caregivers. It's time we acknowledge the immense impact of simple and often overlooked features to ensure we continue to develop tools that are beneficial to our children and students and easy to adopt for educators and caregivers, alike.
Recent studies have revealed educators have been facing burnout at unprecedented levels. According to a survey by the Rand Corporation, one in four teachers said they were likely to leave their jobs within a year, up from one in six prior to the pandemic. The survey also found that three-quarters of superintendents considered quitting in the 2020/2021 school year. To combat these ever-increasing instances of burnout, the study recommends districts and schools actively look to “communication mechanisms” for innovation to help teachers support student and family learning expectations.
Enter technology-backed educational texting tools, like FASTalk which are emerging as a key instruments to improve how school districts support and communicate with families at scale. These new technologies combine an evidence basis with automated messaging, often via texting, closely aligned with curricula intended to help bridge the gap between classroom learning and home revision.
Tools like FASTalk can dramatically boost a school team’s ability to handle the large volume of effective communication that must be regularly deployed. Rather than asking overworked staff to send messages to families and students, schools can defer to a series of scheduled, classroom content-aligned messages to busy or curious caregivers even in their specific preferred language. This is an incredibly easy and effective way to keep families and schools aligned on the progress or hinderance of their child's education.
When the Massena Central School District in New York rolled out a chatbot last year, they decided to name it Raider, after their mascot. They introduced it to their community as a “Siri” for school and used it to send positive, affirming messages and important information when the pandemic forced a switch to remote instruction. Within weeks of introducing Raider, the Massena Central School District sent out 13,105 texts to parents and students. This saved 328 hours of staff time and tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars that would have been spent on hiring additional staff.
With tools like FASTalk, student motivation and overall performance can be significantly boosted by keeping parents informed on what their child is learning at school. Caregivers receive regular tips and activities to review the themes of the lessons their child received, while back at home. This has proved particularly helpful to families that speak English as a second language as proved by surveys that captured parent sentiment and gather community feedback.
By empowering schools with the right tools, school staff can meet new expectations while simultaneously being relieved of a workload that continually threatens to overwhelm them. Most educators will tell you that even before 2020, there weren’t enough hours in the day to get their work done. Now, three-quarters of National Board Certified Teachers report working more hours since the start of the pandemic. This is a straight path to burnout.
In conclusion, technology-backed community engagement tools can make a significant difference in reducing the workload of educators and school leaders, while also improving communication with families. With recent advances in technology, a behaviourally intelligent chatbot makes it possible to provide personalized support to every single family in a district. By using services like FASTalk, schools can free up time for their staff, allowing them to focus on what they do best and actively prevent burnout.
What is the parent perception gap and why is it more common than you think?
A recent study conducted by Learning Heroes found that 90% of K-12 parents believe their children are performing at grade level, but standardized test scores reveal otherwise. Testing reading, only 29% of eighth-graders were considered proficient, and that dropped to about 26% in math. The findings show a significant gap between parent perception and reality and this is referred to as the parent perception gap. The reasons for this gap are multifaceted, including parents receiving differing reports from schools versus scores from standardized tests. The report highlights the urgent need to close the gap, and former U.S. Secretaries of Education, Arne Duncan and Margaret Spellings, elaborate on the findings while suggesting implementable solutions.
One solution offered to help close the parent perception gap is to use standardized test scores as an indicator of where a child stands in their education. Considered alongside report cards, parents can better understand the areas where their children need help. Instead, report cards tend to differ from the standardized test scores, leading to parents overestimating their children's performance.
Another tested solution suggested by the former secretaries of education is to increase parent engagement. Parents must be made aware of the resources available to them, and schools should communicate with parents to explain their children's results on regular challenges in addition to standardized tests. Parents can then take action to ensure their children get the necessary help to improve their scores.
One question raised is whether the pandemic has contributed to the parent perception gap. The study found that the children's test data was from the end of 2022, and the parent survey was conducted in March 2023. Both secretaries agree that the pandemic has had an impact on the education system. To address this, the government allocated $190 billion in pandemic relief funds, but both secretaries believe that it has not been enough to close the gap.
To address the issue, both secretaries suggest that high-dosage tutoring works well and would go a long way in helping to close the gap. Physical, virtual, or hybrid tutoring after school, on weekends, or during summer school, can provide students with the additional time they need to catch up on missed learning during the pandemic. Duncan suggests that we have a window between April and August or September to close the gap as much as possible, so that children can enter the next school year prepared to be successful.
The parent perception gap is a significant issue, more common than we'd like to think and one that requires attention. Standardized test scores can be used as an indicator of a child's performance, and schools should be clear in their communication with parents to ensure they understand their children's needs. Simply put, parent engagement is essential, and resources like FASTalk ensure families and schools talk in order to support their children. Simple technology backed by government resources can help students recover missed learning and close the gap between parent perception and reality to ensure that students receive the help they need to succeed in their education.
At Family Engagement Lab, we value our customers and how much we learn about the existing and evolving needs of students and their parents/caregivers, teachers, schools, and districts in equitably engaging families with academics. For every implementation of our service, FASTalk, we partner with customers to understand their goals for family engagement and its role in their instructional strategy to support student learning. While we have always put the customer first in our work, what that means and how that looks has changed over the last 5 years and especially since the pandemic and its impact on students, their families and the school community.
When our Customer Success team launched in 2018, the team's priority was simply to help teachers use FASTalk and to have a great experience with it to build relationships with families and to boost their students’ learning. But, with the pandemic and shifted priorities in schools, we noticed a change in our level of support for our district partners as well. Families had more visibility into their child’s education and teachers experienced stress and challenges as never before. This dynamic, combined with our existing practice of supporting customers, resulted in even deeper levels of empathy and partnership. Sometimes we zoomed out to a big picture view with customers to understand an overarching goal or zoomed in on an immediate need and customized their FASTalk service to be timely and relevant.
At Family Engagement Lab, our support for customers goes beyond ensuring success with our product. We start by spending time with district-level academic instructional leads and family engagement coordinators to gain an understanding of the unique needs of each of the communities we serve. Only then can we work alongside the schools and school systems to set goals around academic and family engagement priorities and implement our products, professional development, and/or coaching services with an asset-based approach. Given the shifted priorities since March 2020, our department's name "Customer Success," didn't quite reflect how our district partners thought of us or how we think of ourselves.
So effective this year, our Customer Success Team at Family Engagement Lab has changed its name to District Partnerships. The name change more accurately reflects how Family Engagement Lab works with our customers; as valued partners.
To better support teachers’ unique needs and build teachers’ capacity to form meaningful partnerships with families, we also welcomed Kelsey Hodge as our new Partner Success Manager. Kelsey is a former secondary classroom teacher and understands first-hand the role family engagement plays in learning and the common barriers that prevent it. Through trainings, PD, 1-1 support, and innovative beta testing opportunities, Kelsey works closely with teachers to try out new family engagement strategies to build authentic relationships with their students’ families.
The District Partnerships team is committed to helping our customers reach families equitably in their home language with content linked to student learning and helping teachers to build trusted relationships with their students’ families. These are, and will continue to be, our team’s highest priorities.
To learn more about how the District Partnerships team can help support your family engagement efforts, contact Hannah Lee, Director, District Partnerships.
Family Engagement Lab and Stand for Children have proudly partnered since 2019 to support improved student learning outcomes through family engagement. In 2021, Stand’s Home Visit Partnerships’ Director, working closely with Fort Worth ISD’s Leadership Academy Network, identified a critical need to provide continued connection and relationship building between teachers and families after a teacher’s initial home visit. Because home visits only happen once or twice a year, teachers were looking for additional ways to leverage the positive relationships they established during those visits to build stronger partnership and the capacity of families to support learning all year.
It was with those questions in mind that Stacey Vanhoy, Director of Home Visit Partnerships, began to research best practices on ways to support teachers to extend learning from
the classroom to the living room, while not adding additional work to teachers’ plates. In October of 2021, Home Visit Partnerships and Family Engagement Lab met and excitedly spoke about how FASTalk could support Leadership Academy Network teachers’ need for ongoing, learning-related information that could be sent equitably and easily to their students’ families.
During Spring 2022, Family Engagement Lab and Home Visit Partnerships came together to support ongoing partnerships between teachers and families through home visits and the regular sharing of at-home learning activities through FASTalk at two schools in the Leadership Academy Network, a partnership between Fort Worth ISD and Texas Wesleyan University. FASTalk was piloted for 12 weeks in 6 pre-K classrooms at the Leadership Academy at Maude I. Logan and the Leadership Academy at John T. White Elementary Schools - and was met with resounding success all around. 100% of teachers and families who participated wanted home visits and FASTalk messages to continue. 79% of families responded to the FASTalk text messages and 56% responded 5 or more times. These strong engagement rates generated excitement about expanding the program at the Leadership Academy schools and in other Fort Worth area schools.
At the conclusion of the pilot, Stacey, along with Dr. Elisabeth O’Bryon, Family Engagement Lab’s Chief Impact Officer and co-founder, conducted a series of focus groups with Logan and White Elementary Schools’ educators and families to learn more about their experience with FASTalk and home visits.
Fort Worth teachers shared the importance of having already visited families’ homes and
developed trust prior to beginning the FASTalk program. Teachers loved the outgoing, translated FASTalk messages and the automatic message translation feature that enabled regular two-way communication in families’ home languages. Fort Worth families noted that they loved being able to support their child’s learning at home and that FASTalk helped them feel included in their child’s education. Families wanted even more weekly messages, reporting that the FASTalk activities were really engaging for their children. FASTalk helped families feel connected to what was happening at school and fostered a sense of partnership between families and their children’s teachers. One mother noted that she felt like her child was the “MVP” and she and the teacher were both on his team, helping him succeed.
“FASTalk has been a game changer for our schools. This valuable resource has been one of the tools we have been able to utilize to build our communication efforts with our families. FASTalk has helped equip our parents to best support their students at home!” - Priscila Dilley, Senior Officer, Leadership Academy Network
The pilot results were so positive that Leadership Academy Network’s senior leadership team has expanded the use of FASTalk this academic year to all four campuses for pre-K, Kinder, and 1st grade families.
In addition to Leadership Academy Network schools, Home Visit Partnerships and Family Engagement Lab, with the support of the Rainwater Charitable Foundation, have teamed up with East Fort Worth Montessori Academy in PK-5th grades. As Mrs. Farhanaz Reza, 3rd grade teacher shared, “At the beginning of this year, we learned about ‘FASTalk’ and ‘Home Visit’ as the communication systems available to us. After visiting several families, I noticed that kids are putting extra effort to accomplish their tasks. They are making behavioral changes as well. They were super excited to see teachers at their home. Parents were happy and grateful. They appreciated our efforts to go beyond and help each other to make a difference. Now, parents are comfortable communicating via FASTalk. The majority of my families reach out to me with their daily needs, any concerns, or questions through FASTalk. I have started feeling stronger and I would say, seeing these positive changes in my students, is a great achievement.”
This month, through generous support from Rose Community Foundation, Gary Community Ventures and The Deane Family Fund, a fund of the Denver Foundation, Home Visit Partnerships and Family Engagement Lab will build on their partnership to support early literacy learning in both Denver and across Colorado.
If you are interested in learning more about Home Visit Partnerships and Family Engagement Lab, please visit our websites and learn more about how you can support our work.
Home Visit Partnerships
Family Engagement Lab