Parents are more concerned about their children missing social interactions at school and with peers than they are someone in their family getting sick with the coronavirus, according to a new survey released Wednesday.
Fifty-nine percent of the more than 3,600 parents and guardians responding to the nonprofit Learning Heroes’ survey said their children’s lack of in-person connections was currently their top pandemic-related concern, with 57% saying they are worried about COVID-19 affecting a family member. Making sure their children will be prepared for the next grade level and whether closures or changes to school models will negatively impact their children’s education tied for third at 54%.
The results highlight the larger role parents have played in their children’s learning since schools switched to remote instruction, with 67% saying they are more “connected with my child’s day-to-day education now than ever before” and 70% wanting to know what their children have missed and how they can make it up.
Thirty-six percent of respondents said their child will need additional academic support to make up for missed learning before next school year, and 45% said if their school offers summer academic courses to help students catch up, they would be very or extremely likely to send their children.
Ranking options similar to those presented to teachers and administrators by the Collaborative for Student Success in April, parents are more in favor of using summer school to address learning loss than starting school early in the fall or extending the 2020-21 school year into the following summer.
If they open it, will they come?
While the survey is conducted annually, this year it is one of a growing number of projects aiming to understand how families have adapted during the crisis, how they would assess their school district’s efforts to deliver remote instruction, and how they want schools to handle the reopening process.
For example, the National Parent Union on Monday released the results of a survey with a small sample — 500 parents — which asked many of the same questions as Learning Heroes did, but also focused on the strict health and safety measures parents think schools should take when they re-open.
Eighty-one percent of the respondents said it’s extremely or very important to require students and staff members to stay home for 14 days if they’ve tested positive for the coronavirus. Seventy-six percent said schools should equip all students with devices and internet access at the beginning of the school year in case they become ill or schools close again. And 63% are in favor of staggered schedules so schools can space desks apart in classrooms.
NPU, a network of parent organizations, released the results along with a “Family Bill of Rights,” which includes statements related to personalized learning plans for each student and education finance systems that target the most disadvantaged students.
Keri Rodrigues, founding president of NPU, suggested parents who can afford to stay home with their children might push for that option if they are uncomfortable with health measures at schools, but those who have to be at work may be more likely "to roll the dice."
"Overall, I think you will see an uptick in families keeping children at home until a vaccine is in place," she said. "Families trust scientists, not education leaders and elected officials, to keep their kids safe."
Parents, she added, don't have a lot of confidence in the plans educators and experts are proposing. "[Educators and experts] seem all too anxious to shove our children back into the system as quickly as possible — instead of engaging with families to rethink what this should look like," she said.
Los Angeles families still face digital divide
In addition, the Los Angeles Unified School District on Monday released results of a survey, which drew complete or partial responses from almost 7,300 parents in Local District East, one of six sub-districts. Three-fourths of the respondents say the district has done a good or excellent job "managing the situation of school closures caused by the coronavirus" and making learning materials and instruction available.
But 46% responded distance learning has been somewhat or extremely unsuccessful for their family, and about half were “very confident” they have the equipment and “technological know-how” to help their child successfully participate in distance learning.
“Inadequate devices and Wi-Fi remain huge issues for families, as well as their access to teachers,” Jenny Hontz, communications director for Speak UP, a parent advocacy organization, wrote in an article on the results. “A full 26% of survey respondents said they don’t have a computer or tablet or enough digital devices at home, calling into question LAUSD’s claim that nearly every family now has the devices they need.”
In his comments on the survey, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said, “Providing devices and internet access is just the beginning, and we’ll continue to train educators, students and families how to get the most out of online learning.” Speak UP is also addressing the issue with its iFamily program, which provides training on how to use Zoom and other tech tools.
Regular contact with their children’s teachers was also a top desire for LAUSD parents — a recurring theme across multiple surveys.
"Parents want consistent contact from their schools, principals, teachers and school counselors," said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, executive director of The Education Trust-West, which published a parent poll in April. "Providing consistent support during a challenging time is key to improving academic outcomes and meeting the socioemotional needs of students."
A gap in helpful resources
The Learning Heroes survey also gauged parents’ satisfaction and experiences with remote learning. On average, parents report their children are spending 4.2 hours per day on schoolwork, but 22% responded their child was spending only about an hour on assignments. The percentages answering an hour were also significantly higher among families without reliable internet access (45%), those without a device or internet (34%) and those working outside of the home (27%).
More than half of parents responded that remote schooling is working better than they expected, with African American (64%) and Hispanic parents’ (62%) responses higher than those of white parents (56%).
The majority of parents, however, said they haven’t received resources from schools, ranging from clear expectations for their children’s assignments and digital versions of class materials to personal technology.
The data also shows in some case there are gaps between what parents said would be “extremely helpful” and the resources actually available. For example, 39% of parents said having a hotline or online chat function to ask questions about helping with online learning would be helpful, but 12% said their school actually has such a service.
Finally, the survey shows a small increase in the percentage of parents saying it is “absolutely essential” their child goes to college, from 73% in 2019 to 76% this year. Seventy-three percent also say they are “extremely confident” their child will be well prepared for college after graduation, up from 65% last year.
Evidence is mounting, however, that the pandemic is affecting high school students’ postsecondary plans. New data from Civis Analytics, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shows almost half of parents responding to a survey say their child’s plans have changed.
Forty-three percent plan to go to a four-year institution, a drop of about 7% since late April. Black (59%) and Hispanic (61%) parents were also more likely than white parents (43%) to say their children’s plans have changed.