AI and texting: Your school’s new student success team

"We're consistently hearing from families a desire to understand what are their children learning, if they are on track and how can they help at home," a nonprofit platform provider says.

It’s a blend of the cutting-edge and what might have been cutting-edge 20 years ago: AI-powered text messages are helping K12 leaders move the needle in some key areas of student success.

Joanna Smith-Griffin, executive director of AllHere, whose AI tools are largely focused on reducing chronic absenteeism, says the platforms are not meant to replace the human element but to help administrators make outreach more efficient and effective. “Some educators are hesitant to embrace AI and machine learning—they fear the unknown based on a lifetime of human-led interventions,” Smith-Griffin notes. “Students and parents should not be subjected to interventions based solely on AI.”

AllHere (which won District Administration Top Product Awards in 2020 and 2023) is fueled by data districts provide on a student’s current and past attendance, grades and other measures of progress to forecast if a child is at risk of becoming chronically absent. Alerts are then texted to families because parents are more likely to respond to that form of communication compared to email or phone calls, Smith-Griffin explains.

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As importantly, the notifications—and the company’s (human) Family Resource Team—can connect parents and families to resources to solve problems that are contributing to absenteeism, such as housing or transportation. “It’s easy to think of chronic absenteeism as a standalone issue but often it’s compounded as a result of barriers students are facing in other areas,” she says. “We also look at the full bench of support resources schools have so we can get [families] help in the moment.”

These text “nudges,” which can be translated into families’ home languages, are more easily scalable than other highly effective practices, such as home visits, that have been shown to reduce chronic absenteeism, says Smith-Griffin. The same “nudge” science is now being used to provide students with additional learning resources if they are struggling with certain skills, she concludes.

More text message equity

The nonprofit Family Engagement Lab sends texts, which also can be translated into a wide range of languages, to share learning activities that students and families can work on together. The organization is focused on helping teachers connect with historically underserved families, says Elisabeth O’Bryon, the Lab’s chief impact officer and co-founder.

“There’s a lack of information flowing to families about key information in a way that is accessible and actionable,” O’Bryon contends. “We’re consistently hearing from families about their desire to understand what their children are learning, if they are on track and how can they help at home.”

District leaders can align the organization’s FASTalk platform with their curriculum to send notifications about what students are learning. For example, parents of kindergarteners might get a text explaining their children are learning letter sounds and suggesting activities such as finding items that start with each letter at home. “These are things that can be done in the car, on neighborhood walks, in waiting rooms,” O’Bryon adds.

Messages that parents send back to teachers—if written in other languages—are translated back into English. “It creates a ‘lower lift’ for teachers by sending out high-impact tips and activities,” she concludes. “Teachers are hearing gratitude from families for providing information in the home language.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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