Research / BFI Working PaperMar 21, 2023

Engaging Parents with Preschools: Evidence from a Field Experiment

Head Start and other publicly supported preschools are required to spend substantial funds promoting family engagement, which is a key element of improving child skills. Yet, parent engagement with preschools tends to be low. To increase parental attendance at school-sponsored family-engagement events, we conducted a 4-month RCT with 319 parents across six preschools in Chicago. We designed an intervention using a combination of financial incentives and two tools from behavioral economics: loss-framing and reminder messages. The treatment parents were given a $25 per event incentive to attend 8 events sponsored by their preschools, as well as weekly text message reminders about the events. The financial incentive was framed using loss aversion: parents were initially given $200 in a virtual account, and lost $25 for each missed event. The overall likelihood of attending an event was 12.9% in the control group and 16.5% in the treatment group, representing a statistically significant 28% increase. Treated parents were also more likely to attend unincentivized events after the intervention, which is consistent with habit formation. There was little heterogeneity by event time and type. However, the treatment effect did not increase the proportion of parents who attend

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