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Analysis: What Do Parents Think About K-12 Education During & After COVID-19? Schools Are in Crisis, But Better Days Are Ahead, Survey Finds

By Bruno Manno | November 30, 2020

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COVID-19 has forced America’s parents to oversee their children’s education in ways no parent (or educator) ever imagined.

What do they think about K-12 education now?

A nationally representative survey of 1,000 public and private school parents by FIL Inc. has answers to this question. The opt-in survey was conducted online Sept. 14-16, weighted to account for demographics including age, private/public school enrollment, income, geography and gender. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Dr. Frank Luntz, FIL founder and the survey director, summarizes the main conclusion: “Never in my lifetime have so many parents been so eager for so much educational change.”

Let’s start with two examples of the effects COVID-19 and online learning have had on parents and their conclusions about the state of today’s education system.

First, when asked to provide the best word or phrase to “describe your child’s experience with learning online” the word “frustrating” was the negative word used most often, by nearly one in four parents.

Second, COVID-19 looms as a significant threat as parents think about the 2021 school year. When asked to assume schools can open normally next fall and to choose where they hope to educate their child, less than one-third (30 percent) responded “fully in-person learning on school grounds.”

These and other factors have led three out of four parents (76 percent) to conclude that the education system today is in crisis.

Remarkably, despite the stormy effects, parents are optimistic about the future: Nearly two in three (63 percent) believe that America’s best days in education are still ahead.

What does that future look like to them?

Parents don’t want a “return to normal.” Two of three (66 percent) would rethink “how we educate students, coming up with new ways to teach children,” with the remaining believing schools “should get back to the way things were before … COVID-19.”

The following changes are supported by large percentages of parents.

More than eight in 10 favor “work-based learning programs or apprenticeships in various career fields” (82 percent) and “more vocational classes in high schools” (80 percent).

More than six in 10 (64 percent) would change “the school calendar to provide more time for academic instruction.”

In addition, there is significant parent interest in new ways of financing their children’s learning. For example, nearly eight in ten (76 percent) want to see “education funding follow the student to whichever school they or their parents choose.”

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Furthermore, 80 percent want the government to provide education savings accounts for families, defined as “allowing parents to receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts.”

But there is an awareness problem with this approach: Over half of parents (51 percent) are either only a “little familiar” with education savings accounts or “know nothing” about them.

Another new approach parents support is education pods, small groups of children who learn together in settings organized by parents who either hire a teacher or take turns supervising. More than half (53 percent) support these pods, with higher support from Black and Hispanic parents (60 percent) than among white parents (53 percent). Only 14 percent overall are entirely opposed to them.

Both education savings accounts and pods are popular now. But parents are divided as to whether savings accounts should be permanent (42 percent) or temporary (38 percent). And while more than half (52 percent) believe there should be government subsidies for pods, support drops for making them permanent after COVID-19.

Clearly, at present, these are viewed as a supplement to today’s online education. Implementing these approaches quickly and effectively could help parents see that they may be more than that.

Parents today believe our K-12 system is in crisis. But they are optimistic and poised for what could be a new era in educational excellence, one in which families have more direct control over, and options for, their child’s education. One in which they are truly trusted and supported in making decisions about their children’s schooling. One that ensures parents have many options for giving their children an effective education that prepares them for opportunity and success.

Bruno V. Manno is senior adviser for the Walton Family Foundation’s K-12 Program. This survey was supported by the Walton Family Foundation, though FIL Inc. retained control over survey development, administration and data reporting. Walton Family Foundation provides financial support to The 74.

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