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Poverty

Learning Some Tough Lessons From Our Parent Poll

When it comes to our kids, we parents can be awfully hard on ourselves. And when it comes to their schooling, we’re really in a bind. Are we going to be that parent who pesters the principal to give their kid the best teacher? The parent who teachers snicker about because we “help” too much with homework? Or, the parent who doesn’t care because we don’t volunteer in the classroom, with the kid who is tardy, talkative, fidgety or has too many unchecked homework assignments? Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. As a parent, I struggle with this all the time: Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? That’s why I didn’t find this surprising in a poll we released today: When asked who is most responsible when our kids are learning (or not learning) at school, parents hold themselves the most responsible—more than their children, and far more than teachers and schools. As a professional who is committed to changing the status quo in our nation’s schools (which wins me the pejorative label of “school reformer”), I am utterly confounded by this finding. How do we make the case that schools need to improve, that teaching quality needs to be more consistent, if only 14 percent of parents say teachers (and 7 percent say schools) are most responsible for students’ progress in school?

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How can that be, when it is teachers (not us parents) who are at school all day with our children? That’s their job, right? To help our students learn? So why do so many parents give their teachers and schools a pass on this? This kind of finding doesn’t make our jobs any easier, but it’s exactly why Education Post conducted this extensive research over the past few months. We needed to know how parents really feel about their kids’ education and all the reform issues we seem to struggle with most as a nation. The process started with a fascinating qualitative process called “visual dialogue analysis,” where we asked nearly 5,000 parents one of 12 open-ended questions and asked them to respond to the prompt with one sentence and an image (a la Pinterest).
What does a good (or bad) school look like? What do you want your child to get from his/her education? What action would you take to improve schools in your community? What kind of school experiences do you think children from low-income neighborhoods have compared to children from other neighborhoods?
It was parent responses to these questions—not our own preconceived notions—that informed the poll we are releasing today. Findings like the one around parent responsibility don’t fit very neatly into our narrative about holding teachers and schools more accountable for student learning, but they certainly show that we’re not trying to cook the research books. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be writing about the more intriguing aspects of this poll. We’ll be exploring:
  • Parents soundly reject the notion that poverty is destiny in our most disadvantaged schools. By a 2-to-1 ratio, parents say schools and teachers can overcome the obstacles faced by our most vulnerable children, so we should focus on improving schools serving kids in poverty. They also want all children held to high standards. So it raises this question: When are our most vocal anti-reformers going to acknowledge that parents don’t want their children hobbled by this belief?
  • While nearly all parents seem to think college is important for their kids, the majority don’t think it’s important for all kids—that it’s just as important for (everybody else’s) kids to learn a skill or trade. This disconnect between college-for-their-kid versus college-for-other-kids is most pronounced for white parents.
  • Rural parents are most pessimistic about their schools—they are the least satisfied with their school choices, they report the lowest confidence in their children being prepared for college and to thrive as adults, they are the least likely to say standardized testing is fair, and the most likely to believe education in their community is “off on the wrong track.”Given all the attention focused on school reform in urban areas, where parents are surprisingly optimistic, does this suggest it’s time to renew our efforts in our most under-resourced rural schools?
  • Half of all parents believe “all children have access to the same quality of education in our public schools regardless of background, race and income.” And Latino parents are the most likely to see schools as equitable.So, what gives here? How can we ignore decades of research that suggests just the opposite? Is it optimism, or willful blindness?
  • While parents are conflicted about the amount and use of standardized tests, they generally agree testing is useful, and while it causes stress for kids, most say the stress is manageable.
  • When it comes to the Common Core State Standards, a fifth of parents still don’t know what it is, but among those who do, most either want to preserve it as is or give it a chance to improve. Three-quarters of parents identify common standards and high standards as a top or high priority, which echoes what many other polls have said—that disapproval seems focused on the brand “Common Core” rather than the goal of high, shared benchmarks for kids.
We’re asking a range of parents, teachers and thought leaders to weigh in on these findings, and others, over the coming weeks, so stay tuned. And we urge you too to join the discussion.  
Tracy Dell'Angela is the Messaging and Programs Director at Education Post.
Tracy Dell’Angela
Tracy Dell’Angela is a writer, education nonprofit executive director and a mom passionate about education improvements. Previously, Tracy was Director of Outreach and Communications for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. She came to IES from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, which produces research that ...

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