(Note: the author is a board trustee at the Plano, Texas Independent School District, one of the best performing districts in the nation)
It is sometimes easy to ignore the role that the teacher-to-parent communications and parent-student "talk" play in the success of the student, but this study proves how important it is.
The experimental study was conducted by researchers from Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Brown University in a large urban school district in the Northeastern US, with a large majority of minority students, mostly Hispanic and African-American, from low-income families. High-school students who previously failed an English, history, mathematics, or science classes were given an opportunity for credit recovery during the summer semester.
Twenty nine teachers and 435 students were included in this study, out of the 1,417 students who participated in the program. The students were randomly divided into three relatively equal size groups. One group received positive information (reinforcing positive behaviors and performance) in a short weekly email from the teacher, a second group received improvement/negative information (what students needed to do to improve), and the third group received no information at all.
To eliminate teacher bias, the teachers wrote positive and improvement emails to all students. Those messages were not sent directly to the parents, but rather to research assistants, who sent the appropriate email (or none at all) to the parents, based on the group to which their student belonged in this study. This way, the teachers were completely blind to the relationship between their emails and student performance and could not inadvertently affect it.
The results were amazing. The majority of students passed this summer class. 84.2% of those whose parents had not received any email at all earned course credit. However, 90.7% of those whose parents received a short weekly email from the teachers had passed. Looking at failure rates, there was a drop from 15.8% failure rate of those whose parents had not received email to 9.3% for those who did. A drop of 41% in failure rate! The results were determined to be statistically significant. This could be the difference between being on-track or off-track for graduation. An interesting result was that it didn't really matter whether the message sent to the parents was a positive one (how well their student had performed this week) or a negative one (what the student needs to improve).
The study further found that the communications from the teachers did not change the frequency of school-related talks between parents and their students, but rather changed the content of it.
Sending one short weekly email ("low-touch" communication) to parents can reduce failure rate by 41%. And it costs nothing.