I’m from Florida and 6 of 10 Black male students in Florida failed to graduate high school in 2010. This statistic is staggering. I have nephews currently in the system who are fighting to overcome these odds.
While we expect students to compete in a 21st century economy, teachers are confined to the dark ages of technology. Mobile phones and social media have connected the world in unimaginable ways; these disruptive technologies are accessible to the masses and can help lift many low-income families out of the shadows.
Black males are equally capable of achieving academic success. We see this in athletics: when the playing field is level and the rules are clearly defined, our performance can exceed expectations. Unfortunately, the very tools that are helping to democratize access to information across the world and could improve engagement among low-income families are barely utilized, if not banned, by most school districts across the country.
Students don’t check email anymore. This may sound strange to some, but ask a group of high school students you know for a quick dose of reality. The graph below shows nearly a 50% decline in use of email among youth in 2010 and usage dropped by another 30% in 2011.
Members of school boards and senior administrators are more likely to carry an AARP card around than a smartphone, which contributes to this disconnect. The 55+ segment of the population is deciding how teachers can communicate with the students they instruct and continues to think email is effective.
Even if email was still a communication channel to youth, 40% of African American families don’t have a computer in their home. A White parent is far more likely to receive a teacher’s email after a long day of work compared to a Black or Hispanic parent. I am willing to bet that the inner-city community in which I was raised – where my nephews currently live – is challenged by an even greater digital divide.
For every day that a Black male or any student is absent, a public school in the US loses roughly $30-$50. The failure to keep these students engaged leads to lost economic productivity that is exponentially greater over a lifetime.
Leveraging texting and social media as a tool for engaging students and parents makes sense. Mobile phones have the potential to enable real-time contact with absent students or reminders about teacher-parent meetings to reach a device most people never leave home without.
Education leaders should be forward leaning, given these population trends. Policies and safe-guards for protecting students need to be formulated. Research examining if communication via these channels actually influences behavior and leads to better outcomes is desperately needed.
The concept of texting as an educational tool is fairly new, so we’ve come up with a few helpful tips for teachers:
1. Ensure that you have the consent of every parent and student with whom you plan to text message. Spamming is not cool.
2. Make messages short and direct. Most parents are super busy and value concise messages packed with important content.
3. Include a clear call to action. Encourage parents to quiz their children on specific assignments covered during the day as a way to reinforce learning gains.
4. Plan ahead and avoid last minute reminders that give parents a short timeline within which they must respond.
5. Don’t over-communicate. Each classroom is different, so use your judgment, but remember that you are likely one of many people regularly texting the parent.
- Garrett Johnson is a co-founder of SendHub.