Post-Pandemic Survey Shows Parents Want Greater Control of Kids’ Education

Findings come after COVID gave parents a courtside seat to their children’s learning, prompting many to push for change

Eamonn Fitzmaurice / T74

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More than half of the 3,115 parents who participated in a spring survey said they prefer to direct and curate their child’s education rather than rely entirely on their local school system, results showed. 

Conducted by Tyton Partners, an investment banking and consulting firm that examines pandemic-related shifts in education, and funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation and Stand Together Trust, the survey was released Oct. 26.

It comes after parents had courtside seats to various aspects of their children’s learning during the pandemic, prompting many — from myriad backgrounds and political affiliations — to push for change.

“What we’re hearing from parents loud and clear is they feel a greater sense of ownership over their child’s education,” said Christian Lehr, a senior principal in Tyton’s strategy consulting practice. “The last two years have been incredibly difficult. Now, parents are actively searching for new experiences that will deliver on academic promises, yes, but also bring joy and delight.” 

Parents were asked to rate their preferences and beliefs towards K-12 learning on a scale of 1 to 100; data was divided in groupings of 0-33, 34-66 and 67-100 to indicate preferences. (Tyton Partners)

Fifty-nine percent of participants said their educational preferences changed post-pandemic: 51% said personal interest and needs should drive a child’s education rather than grade-level requirements. 

Nearly 80% said learning can and should happen anywhere. 

Some parent groups, frustrated by underperforming schools, have advocated for the types of change they feel will propel children of color and other marginalized groups. Many don’t have a political agenda while others are openly partisan: Conservative parents are driving change from within the public school system, pushing for certain texts — often those that concern issues of race and gender — to be pulled from the classroom. Left-leaning suburban families have organized against this trend. 

Others still, unhappy with districts’ remote learning options during the pandemic, removed their children from the public school system entirely. And while some have returned to campus, virtual school enrollment figures remain high. 

Survey results also reveal that children from underserved backgrounds — a family who identified in the survey with at least two of the following: low-income, Black, Latino, Indigenous and with first-generation college-goers — are less likely than their peers to attend private schools or engage in learning beyond their typical school day. Thirty-eight percent of the 739 respondents in this category indicated they did not participate in any “out-of-school” learning experiences compared to 24% of their peers. 

Just 20% of underserved children attended camp compared to 32% of other students: Likewise, only 9% had private tutors compared to 14% of the remainder.

“Unfortunately, not all families can live out their K-12 aspirations,” Lehr said. “Too many parents are stuck. We must work hard to connect families with a broader set of learning opportunities and provide them the resources and tools necessary to take action.”

The survey included roughly 80 questions but respondents, each of whom had at least one child in grades K-12, didn’t answer all of them: The questions were dependent on previous answers and each took participants down a different path. 

Lakisha Young, founder of Oakland REACH (Oakland REACH)

Lakisha Young, executive director of The Oakland REACH, a parent-run group that empowers families from underserved communities to demand high-quality schools, said her organization was born out of frustration. 

On the 2022 California state tests, 65% of Oakland Unified School District students failed to meet grade-level standards in English and 74% missed the mark in math. The roughly 35,500-student district has been failing children for generations, said Young, who reasons students wouldn’t fare so poorly if administrators were capable of improving outcomes without assistance. 

“We exist out of a problem,” said Young, who has three children, her eldest a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College. “And we have to do everything we can to address it.”

The Oakland REACH, which got its start in 2016, launched an online family literacy hub during the pandemic that provides students with research-based reading instruction. 

The group is also working to recruit dozens of parents and other community members to serve as tutors for reading and math, helping them land paid jobs within the school district that not only support students but lift up families. 

“They resemble our kids, and come from similar neighborhoods,” Young said of the tutors. “Our model builds the assets already in the community.”

The Oakland REACH, which has plans to replicate its programs across the state and nation, has caught the attention of major education philanthropists, including MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who recently donated $3 million and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which earlier gave $1.5 million. It’s among 31 education nonprofits that will split $10 million in funding from Accelerate, a new venture launched this year by America Achieves to ensure that all students have access to free, effective tutoring.

Tyton also gathered information from more than 150 K-12 suppliers who serve children in and out of school. It advises the K-12 community to be parent centric and consider the availability, affordability and accessibility of the programs they offer — and communicate these offerings to parents. 

To that end, policymakers and those working in education can develop online platforms and provide guidance for families to navigate their local K-12 ecosystem, it said. Suppliers of student programs, the report found, can increase capacity to serve more children — and funders can help them grow. 

Disclosure: Walton Family Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Stand Together Trust provide financial support to The 74.

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