Guest post by Benjamin L. Castleman On Tuesday, September 15, President Obama issued an Executive Order encouraging federal agencies to use insights from behavioral science to inform the design and implementation of policies aimed at improving the lives of Americans. On the same day, the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team issued a report documenting collaborations with federal agencies over the past year that leveraged behavioral strategies to improve outcomes in areas ranging from health insurance enrollment to retirement savings among military personnel. These announcements by the Obama Administration come on the heels of several other important milestones over the last year, including the inaugural conference of the Behavioral Science and Policy Association and the publication of a directory of academics who focus on applying behavioral insights to address pressing societal issues. Simply put, behavioral sciences has entered the mainstream of American public policy innovation, development, and implementation. Few sectors have experienced as rapid proliferation of behaviorally-informed policies over the last several years as public education. From pre-K through college, researchers and policy makers in communities across the country have implemented a variety of behavioral strategies to improve educational outcomes for America’s youth. These approaches tend to be guided by one of the following principles:
- Change policies so that participating in important educational opportunities is the default condition rather than what students have to actively opt in to.
- Simplify information to help students and families understand their educational options and make choices that are well-suited to students’ personal abilities and circumstances.
- Prompt students to complete important tasks before they miss binding deadlines.
- Creatively leverage available student data to make outreach as personalized and salient as possible.
- Use delivery channels, like text messaging, that effectively reach students and their parents.