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A Behavioral Approach to Increasing Head Start Attendance
Initial registration date
October 24, 2017
April 16, 2020 2:17 PM EDT
The University of Chicago
Other Primary Investigator(s)
The University of Chicago
Additional Trial Information
High levels of absenteeism are common in subsidized preschool programs. Studies show that the share of children in Head Start programs who miss more than 10% of the school days (or over a month of instructional time) is 36% in Chicago. This startling trend continues over the course of the child’s education: one-third of chronically absent four-year-olds continue to be chronically absent in kindergarten and of these students more than 30% are still chronically absent in second grade.
Absenteeism is a problem for preschool children because they miss crucial time to develop kindergarten readiness skills. But in many cases it is also an indication that their parents may need help with developing the habit of regular school attendance in order to avoid creating a cycle of absenteeism that could later lead to school failure. Preschool absences may also be a signal of other problems related to parent and child planning and self-regulation. Helping parents establish regular school attendance may therefore help parents and children develop routines that have positive spillovers to other behaviors. Behavioral science has shown that individuals often encounter cognitive roadblocks that prevent them from engaging in behavior that they themselves want to do. Head Start programs stress the importance of attendance, and low-income children are less often absent from kindergarten than preschool. This suggests that one or more cognitive roadblocks may reduce attendance in the preschool years. This randomized controlled trial aims to develop a cost-effective and scalable behavioral approach to understanding and reducing absenteeism in Head Start programs. Show Up 2 Grow Up implements a series of text messages (approximately 4 per week). These messages 1) emphasize the importance of preschool learning concepts to kindergarten readiness; 2) prompt parents to identify obstacles to attendance and create plans to address these obstacles; 3) provide information to parents about their children's monthly attendance rates; 4) remind parents to maintain a goal of daily attendance. We have created a platform for parents to maintain a monthly goal of 100% for their child's attendance and the intervention provides objective feedback for parents on their success in meeting these goals. Registration Citation
Gallegos, Sebastian, Ariel Kalil and Susan E. Mayer. 2020. "A Behavioral Approach to Increasing Head Start Attendance." AEA RCT Registry. April 16.
Show Up 2 Grow Up implements a series of text messages (approximately 4 per week). These messages 1) emphasize the importance of preschool learning concepts to kindergarten readiness; 2) prompt parents to identify obstacles to attendance and create plans to address these obstacles; 3) provide information to parents about their children's monthly attendance rates; 4) remind parents to maintain a goal of daily attendance.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Our project considers the analysis of multiple heterogeneous treatment effects and study of mechanisms behind our intervention. We plan to analyze effects by child and parent demographics; and also by parental preferences for attendance, work schedule and socioeconomic status. In addition, we implement a time-preferences survey designed to measure discounting by parents, which we have found to be important in explaining behavioral responses in previous work (see Mayer, Kalil, Oreopoulos and Gallegos, 2017).
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Our analysis of heterogenous effects/mechanisms is motivated by the fact that parents are able to get their children to kindergarten more often than they get them to preschool. Combined with the fact that Head Start programs already provide information about the importance of attendance, this suggests that one or more cognitive roadblocks may reduce attendance in the preschool years.
The Show Up 2 Grow Up study is a randomized controlled trial designed to reduce absenteeism in Head Start centers. Within each preschool center we randomize whether or not parents receive a series of text messages -- approximately 4 per week for an 18-week period-- designed to effect behavior change among parents of children attending Head Start. The text messages are grounded in principles of behavioral science that 1) emphasize the importance of preschool learning concepts to kindergarten readiness; 2) prompt parents to identify obstacles to attendance and create plans to address these obstacles; 3) provide information to parents about their children's monthly attendance rates; and 4) remind parents to maintain a goal of daily attendance.
Experimental Design Details
Within-preschool randomization, stratified by child's classroom and gender, at the parent-child individual level. In terms of method, we completed randomization in our office by computer.
Our unit of randomization are parent-child dyads.
Was the treatment clustered?
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Our treatment was not clustered, but randomized within preschool centers.
Sample size: planned number of observations
700 parent-child dyads
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
350 parent-child dyads in the treatment group and 350 parent-child dyads in the control group.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Our minimum detectable effect size for the main Intention-to-Treat effect on days in attendance (with no covariates) was designed to be 0.20 at the .05 level of statistical significance and with an 80 percent chance of deriving statistically significant impacts assuming a two-sided test of the null hypothesis.
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
University of Chicago IRB - Social & Behavioral Sciences
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post Trial Information
Is the intervention completed?
Intervention Completion Date
June 16, 2017, 12:00 AM +00:00
Is data collection complete?
Data Collection Completion Date
June 05, 2017, 12:00 AM +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
We did not use clusters, we randomized at the individual level.
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
One treatment arm with half in control and half in treatment
Is public data available?
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Reports, Papers & Other Materials
We implemented a field experiment called Show Up to Grow Up designed to increase attendance and diminish chronic absences at subsidized preschool programs in Chicago. We sent personalized text messages to parents targeting malleable factors that potentially drive absences from preschool. Using administrative records from preschools, we find that the intervention increased attended days by 2.5 (0.15 standard deviations) and decreased chronic absenteeism by 9.3 percentage points (20%) over an 18-week period. Our results suggest that the treatment impact is stronger among those in the bottom quantiles of the attendance distribution. Survey data collected at baseline suggest that our intervention made the importance of preschool more salient to parents who initially reported lower expectations for attendance and weaker beliefs about the importance of attendance to their children’s development. Preschool centers may save resources by implementing low-cost light-touch interventions to meet attendance requirements.
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS