Integrating Technology in Early Literacy (InTEL) 2018

A Snapshot of Community Innovation in Family Engagement

Photo: Shutterstock

Findings and Analysis

The information below is based on data collected from an online survey administered from September 2017 to January 2018. The data visualization tools display information and profiles for 40 programs that we discovered through that surveying process. Our intention was to capture information on pilot initiatives, programs, and other activities pursued by educators and community leaders.

This map shows 40 programs. Some of which have multiple sites. For a full list of programs, click the drop-down menu. 

Evidence of Impact Rating

“Evidence of impact” refers to indications that the technology-assisted program improved children’s outcomes, adult behaviors in interacting with children, or teacher practice. Twenty-eight (70 percent) of the programs on the map were rated as having no evidence, and six were rated developing. Three were rated promising and another three were categorized as strong. These programs provided the evidence to inform our ratings. Information on specific research studies and reports is documented in each of the program profiles. 

Laura Zimmermann, postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Education Sciences at the University of Delaware, checked the evidence that programs submitted through the survey for veracity. InTEL 2018 altered the 2016 rubric for rating programs to provide more clarity for community leaders. The programs were sorted based on four categories: 


The initiative has provided documentation of the results of one or more randomized controlled trials, preferably conducted by an independent research institution on its specific program. The study is aligned with the What WorksClearinghouse’s standards.


One or both of the following criteria have been met:

  1. The initiative has provided documentation of the results of an assessment of effectiveness (beyond data or user feedback, but not meeting the What Works Clearinghouse’s standards for randomized controlled trials), preferably conducted by an independent research institution on its specific program.
  2. The program has provided documentation of peer-reviewed evidence showing that a similar approach has worked elsewhere.


The initiative met one of the criteria below:

  1.  Research consists of collecting observational data in homes or at a program site and/or using focus groups to demonstrate the initiative’s benefits for the target audience.
  2. Research is ongoing, so no evidence is yet available.
  3. Research is complete, with documentation of evidence forthcoming.

No Evidence

The program does not currently provide data to demonstrate evidence of impact. 

Programs Using Technology in Early Literacy

This map displays the headquarters or primary location of each program. 

Program Type

There are 40 programs on the map. Over half of the programs (58.5 percent) started after 2010. The majority of the programs (28) provide parent education or family support. Other programs (18) have school- or center-based initiatives. Eighteen programs use public media partnerships, and another 17 are geared toward professional learning for educators. Fifteen programs are connected to a museum, library, or community center. Two are health care initiatives and two are a part of an afterschool program.

The various approaches we saw show the many options that communities can use to engage young children and their families. In many cases, the aim is to build an ecosystem of support so children can grow up to be learners who are adept at using and understanding many different resources. Librarians, family engagement coordinators, home visitors, pediatricians, early childhood educators, and other professionals who interact with young children all can help families learn about the best ways to promote healthy development.

Program Affiliations

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

The Campaign is a collaboration of foundations, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states, and communities across the nation to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship. The Campaign focuses on an important predictor of school success and high school graduation: grade-level reading by the end of third grade.

Research shows that proficiency in reading by the end of third grade enables students to shift from learning to read to reading to learn and to master the more complex subject matter they encounter in fourth grade. Most students who fail to reach this critical milestone falter in later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma. Yet two-thirds of American fourth graders are not proficient readers, according to national reading assessment data. This disturbing statistic is made even worse by the fact that more than four out of every five low-income students miss this critical milestone.

Although schools must be accountable for helping all children achieve and providing effective teaching for all children in every classroom every day, the Campaign is based on the belief that schools cannot succeed alone. Engaged communities mobilized to remove barriers, expand opportunities, and assist parents in fulfilling their role as full partners in the success of their children are needed to assure student success.

Ready to Learn 2015–2020

Ready to Learn is an initiative based on a cooperative agreement funded and managed by the U.S Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. It supports the development of innovative educational television and digital media targeted at preschool and early elementary school children and their families. Its goal is to promote early learning and school readiness, with particular focus on reaching low-income children. In addition to creating television and other media products, the program supports activities intended to promote national distribution of the programming, effective educational uses of the programming, community outreach, and research on education effectiveness.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) have received funding from the Ready to Learn initiative.

Target Audiences

Twenty-nine programs said that their goal was to reach low-income children. Sixteen programs are geared toward dual language learners or English learners. Seven of the programs focus on children with special needs. Refugee families, incarcerated parents, and rural communities are also target populations for individual programs. Others identified the general public or community as their audience.

Program Languages 

Thirty-nine of the programs offer English. Twenty-eight programs offer Spanish, and six programs use other languages, such as Arabic or Mandarin. One program includes American Sign Language, depending on the needs of participants. Another program is focused on building children’s knowledge in Alaska Native language and is not offered in English.  

Ages Served 

On the map, we recorded the number of programs that serve each age group, from birth through age eight (B—8). The majority of programs focus on serving three- to five-year-olds. Twenty or more programs serve children in each year of the B—8 spectrum.

Number of Children Served 

Twenty-one programs serve fewer than 1,000 children; eleven programs serve more than 10,000 children.


Early learning and family engagement programs need stable funding in order to make a long-term impact on the communities they serve. The majority of programs are funded through multiple sources, including through philanthropy (23) or the federal government (20). Sixteen programs are funded by state government and nine are funded by local government. Seven programs either require participants to pay tuition or program fees or are funded by private donors. Nine programs accept individual donations.

Taking a Deeper Dive into How Programs Use Technology to Reach Families

The graphic below documents the technological devices and software that programs use to help develop early learning skills. All 40 programs use multiple technological touch-points for outreach.

Technology Device by Program

The most popular devices are tablets (28), smartphones (24), and laptop or desktop computers (27). Sixteen programs incorporate projectors that connect to digital devices into their work. Thirteen programs use television and 12 use DVD or video cassettes. Other types of devices that are used include interactive whiteboards, webcams, video recorders, and basic e-readers.

Technology Software by Program

The most popular software are websites (33), apps (20), and online videos (19). Sixteen programs utilize social media, and 13 use text messages. Waterford UPSTART, Texas School Ready, and Planting Seeds for Pre-K STEM Education all have online platforms and their own software or curricula.