The Impact of a Messaging Intervention on Parents’ School Hesitancy During Covid-19
10 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2021
Date Written: October 14, 2021
In July 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2021) updated its guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools. The updated guidance places a high priority on schools being fully open—with adequate safety protocols—for the 2021-22 school year. The priority on reopening is attributable, at least in part, to evidence that in-person learning is superior to online or hybrid learning. For instance, parents expressed greater satisfaction and less concern with in-person than online learning (Rapaport et al, 2020) and evidence from before and during the pandemic suggests students’ learning was greater in in-person settings (e.g., Chetty et al, 2020; Domingue et al., 2021; Kaufman & Diliberti, 2021).
Yet opening schools will not actually result in all students retuning to in-person learning. A non-trivial proportion of families—15% according to nationally representative Understanding America Study (UAS) data collected in July, 2021—are “school hesitant,” either planning to keep their child online in the fall or are unsure about online versus in-person learning (http://uasdata.usc.edu/education). Furthermore, school hesitant parents are disproportionately from already marginalized groups (Black and Hispanic families are 26% and 18% hesitant respectively).
Parents have a variety of reasons for preferring to keep their children home. Researchers and journalists have posed several narratives about why parents keep children home including fears about COVID-19, lack of trust in schools that had underserved their children pre-pandemic, the inadequacy of school physical infrastructure, and school closures (Camp & Zamarro, 2021; Kogan, 2021; Economist, 2021). Recent UAS data (Saavedra et al., 2021) suggests the primary reasons parents reported for keeping their children at home included those related to fit (e.g. child was happier and/or more academically successful at home) and safety. Among parents who did not send their child/ren to school in April/May 2021, 27% selected reasons related to fit, 28% to safety, and 33% to both fit and safety (the other 12% selected a variety of other reasons).
Since policymakers and practitioners want to encourage school-hesitant parents to send their children back to in-person school in the 2021-22 school year, we wondered whether well-targeted messages might address parents’ concerns and increase the likelihood that parents would send their children back. We created a brief messaging intervention and tested it using a nationally representative sample of K-12 parents. Our results indicate that messaging targeted at the primary concerns of school-hesitant parents—those related to fit and safety—could substantially increase parents’ likelihood to report they will send their children back in person in the fall. We found the messaging intervention worked well for parents who reported they were “unsure” at baseline, but did not work for parents reported at baseline they were not planning to send their children back in person.
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