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Some toddlers are chronically absent from school. Ariel Kalil, a behavioral economist at the University of Chicago, discovered that a simple text message can help. An experiment that she ran in the US managed to increase attendance by sending parents in the childcare program Head Start personalized messages.

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  • Head Start is a huge popular social program in the US that helps prepare poor 3- and 4-year olds for formal schooling. It's over-subscribed, meaning that there are fewer spots available than the number of kids who would be eligible for them. And yet, paradoxically, it's also got a chronic absenteeism

    Head Start is a huge popular social program in the US that helps prepare poor 3- and 4-year olds for formal schooling. It's over-subscribed, meaning that there are fewer spots available than the number of kids who would be eligible for them. And yet, paradoxically, it's also got a chronic absenteeism problem. In some centers, as many as 40% of students miss 10% or more of school days a year. To tackle this problem, a group of researchers designed an intervention in which they texted parents up to four times a week with statistics about their child's attendance and reminders (or "nudges") about setting attendance goals and why preschool matters. The result surprised me.