Many Parents Concerned Students Are Falling Behind, According To Poll On Pandemic Education Models

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School buses sit parked in a lot as schools remain closed due to the coronavirus on March 30 in Providence, R.I. (David Goldman/AP)
School buses sit parked in a lot as schools were closed in the spring. (David Goldman/AP)

Editor's note: The audio segment attached to this post is a Morning Edition conversation between host Bob Oakes and MassINC Polling Group's Steve Koczela.

Parents of K-12 students participating in hybrid learning models have a more pessimistic outlook on the impacts of this pandemic-disrupted school year than those whose kids are receiving entirely remote or fully in-person education, a new poll shows.

The survey, conducted by the MassINC Polling Group and sponsored by The Barr Foundation, found that around half or more of parents anticipate the current school year will have negative effects on their children's academic learning, mental or emotional health, opportunities for friendships, and social or behavioral skills.

Presenting the findings in a webinar Thursday, MassINC Polling Group President Steve Koczela said higher-income and white parents were more likely to perceive negative impacts, and that parents whose kids were attending full-time, in-person school saw more positive impacts.

Koczela said the poll of 1,549 parents, conducted from Oct. 16 through Nov. 1 via phone and online interviews in English and Spanish, gauges parents' perceptions rather than assessing student achievement and outcome.

With the school year in progress and the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, it's still an open question what the ultimate learning impacts from various academic models as strategies will be.

"Will it be clear at the end that even though it was a miserable experience for parents, that hybrid really was better?" Koczela said. "That's the kind of thing which we don't really know yet. We don't know if it's going to turn out that one of the learning models actually did produce better results, but if we're just listening to parents, there's a lot on their minds."

Angst about hybrid instruction — which can involve a "chaos factor" from switching back-and-forth between modes and added burdens for parents supervising asynchronous learning — does not necessarily translate into a desire for more in-person school time, Koczela said.

The polling group said that the 28% of parents who now say their student is behind grade level is up from 22% in May and "represents a steady rise in concern since before the pandemic, when 13% of parents said their child was behind grade level."

Across learning modes, the jump in parents concerned their child was falling behind grade level was most pronounced for the hybrid-learning parents, rising to 31% from 10% pre-pandemic.

Most respondents said their children were engaged in remote or hybrid instruction (46% each), with 11% saying their children were attending entirely in-person school. Some parents answered for multiple children involved in different set-ups.

The poll showed "big, big, big differences" in which demographic groups are participating in which type of learning, Koczela said.


Latino and Black parents with household incomes below $75,000 were the most likely to say their kids were in all-remote schools, while private-school parents and white parents with household incomes above $75,000 were the least likely.

"There is this big divide that I think we're going to be learning a lot more about as time goes on, in terms of what the impacts of this are, but one of the things we wanted to do with the survey is, because there is no official data on this yet, we just wanted to document who is actually doing what, and how does that actually break down," Koczela said.

Half of respondents said they believed their school district was doing the best it could under the circumstances, and 13% said they had children enrolled in a different school than they'd normally attend because of COVID-19. 11% said they hired someone, like a tutor or part-time teacher, to help out because of this year's schooling changes.

This segment aired on November 20, 2020.


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