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  • Writer's pictureJolie Radunich

Edtech can bridge the math gap for low-income families: Insights from the University of Chicago

Hey Kid,

I remember my first digital math game: a LeapFrog Leapster circa 2004. A little history on the chunky toy:

  • First released in 2003

  • The best-selling educational handheld game console in America in 2007

  • Sold 4 million units and 12 million software cartridges

  • 40 available games

  • Discontinued in 2019

The handheld device was a preschool favorite of mine. Especially the cute counting game featuring a bunny trying to hop its way across a river.

I wasn't a math wiz by nature. But a game like this one gave me exposure and independent practice habits.

My parents didn't hover over me when I used apps or devices like this one. They were involved in making sure the collection of games I was playing had the right mix of educational content. After all, they bought the games!

Picture of handheld learning device with a game shown onscreen.
With the Leapster Learning System children can play games, read books, create art, and watch videos.

Today, when I hear reports about kids needing more math exposure—especially low-income kids—the potential supplemental apps have to be the solution, resonates with me.

Leapster motivated me to keep practicing. But can games help kids of all backgrounds? A new study gives us both some answers.

About the study

Here's what you should know about the recent study out of the University of Chicago: Boosting Parent-Child Math Engagement and Preschool Children’s Math Skills: Evidence from an RCT with Low-Income Families

  • Purpose: Test ability to boost parent math engagement + kid math skills

  • A 12-week intervention

  • Participants

    • 758 low-income preschoolers (3-5 years old)

    • Caregivers split into 5 groups with varying levels of math app support

    • 30 publicly subsidized preschools in Chicago

  • Resources: High-quality digital apps, analog math materials boost

  • Result: Increased parent engagement leads to an increase in kid's math skill

Now here's how marketing led to these successful results.

The home-to-school connection was promoted

If your company's main use cases happen inside the classroom, marketing the home-to-school connection might not rank very high on your list of to-do's.

But the student achievement even a classroom product hopes for, happens best when families are engaged.

The Chicago study experimented with this exact learning environment and found parents reported spending more math time with their kids, in part because of the apps they practiced with.

Realistically, most parents can't completely take over for teachers when the school day ends.

As my school years went on, I remember my parents eventually lacking the math knowledge to tutor me at home

However, numeracy skills research shows the impact of parent involvement. Marketers should do anything but deny this.

Become a hub for dependable resources

The Chicago researchers gave participating parents an "MKit" created by the research team. The kit included the following:

  • A math activity booklet

  • 22 math activities for parents and kids to do together

  • A game board with pieces, instructions, goal tracker

  • Tips to get the most out of the activities

Now imagine including instructional and practice flyers:

  • In a marketing hub site

  • As an email downloadable

  • In a social media FYI

Prioritize product research to ride the efficacy train

Knowing what works in edtech is difficult for parents to gauge.

There are shockingly few randomized controlled trials in a significantly meaningful population that really test what is working. [There’s a lot of] nonsense that you just shouldn’t believe about what works and what doesn’t. -Ariel Kalil, University of Chicago professor

Just 26 of the 100 most popular edtech apps published research that aligns with standards from the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Far fewer of those 26 reach the highest tier of demonstrating strong evidence.

Parents are busy. Many aren't edtech product experts. If they

  1. don't have the time to vet a slew of math programs, but also

  2. want to select the best fit for their child

they're likely to select the program that can best market their track record of success; engagement, improvement, whatever metrics the parent is looking for.


For monthly marketing insights that bridge the gap between learning with and marketing products, check out the monthly newsletter!

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