Text Messages Inspire Students, But Test Scores Stay The Same

Two thousand Oklahoma City students were given free mobile phones that sent them encouraging texts each day. After nine months, they said they valued education more, but there was no corresponding increase in achievement.

What's the Latest Development?


A paper just published in The National Bureau of Economic Research describes what happened when 2,000 Oklahoma City sixth- and seventh-graders were given free mobile phones that received texts once a day encouraging them to work hard in school and study. The texts, which were produced by an award-winning ad agency, included such missives as "High school dropouts are more than three times as likely to be unemployed as college graduates" and "People don't look down on someone for being too educated." After nine months of daily texts, the students gave generally positive feedback. However, "there was no measurable increase in educational attainment or achievement."

What's the Big Idea?

Roland Fryer, the Harvard University economist behind the experiment and lead author of the paper, writes that the experiment's mission was "to assess whether students better understood the link between human capital and outcomes." The students took quizzes that demonstrated they were paying attention to the texts, and some earned more airtime for reading certain books and answering other questions. As to why the positive reinforcement failed to produce better scores, Fryer theorizes that students may not have received enough guidance on "how to translate [extra] effort into output."

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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