While Parents Say Kids Are Doing OK in School, Teachers Not So Convinced

As parents and schools do battle over masking practices, in-class discussions on racial inequity and the appropriate time and place for remote schooling, a new report suggested that parent involvement in education is definitely here to stay. In a fall 2021 survey, 93% parents said they would be "as or more involved in their children's education." That included getting a better understanding of what was expected of their child (86%) and where their child was academically (85%). For their parts, teachers and principals reported that they would spend the same or more energy addressing family engagement this year, 86% and 84%, respectively.

The survey, "Parents 2021: Going Beyond the Headlines," was run by Learning Heroes, an education nonprofit focused on helping parents support their child's success in school. This is the sixth year in which the survey has been done. Conducted by Edge Research for Learning Heroes, the survey ran a nationwide sampling in September 2021 of 1,481 parents and guardians with children in grades K-12 in public school. There were parallel surveys given to 305 teachers and 304 principals over the same period.

The results suggested that parents have an inflated sense of just how well their students are doing in school compared to what educators think. Four in five respondents were "extremely or very confident" that their kids would be "well prepared" for college after high school. Among White parents, that confidence had grown from 62% in 2019 to 80% by September 2021; for Black parents it had grown from 72% to 80%; and for Hispanic parents it rose from 73% to 77%. Yet just half of teachers said most or all students at their schools would be ready for college-level work once they graduated.

In a similar gap, while 87% of parents said they were confident they had a "clear understanding" of how well their students were doing academically, only 69% of teachers said they thought "most or all" of their students' parents had a clear understanding. Most parents pegged their children at or above grade level, 92% for math and 92% for reading; yet 44% of teachers reported that they expected most students to show up prepared for grade-level work.

One area where there was overall consensus among parents and teachers was in what they considered most important when thinking about the school year. The top three choices -- while ranked differently -- included the same three priorities:

  • Safety and security of students and staff (mentioned by 20% of parents and 18% of teachers);

  • Making academic progress (17% and 16%); and

  • Addressing students' mental health and emotional well-being (11% and 12%).

In an examination of who was most responsible for a child's success in school, parents primarily put it on their students (55%) and themselves (33%), whereas teachers tended to take on the bulk of responsibility (43%) with another large share pinned on the principal (37%). Principals targeted the teacher primarily (43%), followed by themselves (37%).

According to the parents, their number one priority for school communications should be gaining a "clear picture" of how their child is doing academically, cited by 55% of respondents. Second, they wanted their schools to be "direct and truthful" about how their children were performing (54%). And third, they wanted teachers and staff to follow through on requests and questions (48%). Teachers said their main priority in communications was to build trust with the families of their students (49%) and to be "authentic" when communicating with families (49%). Only then did teachers prioritize making sure families had a clear view of how their children were doing in class (46%).

More than two-thirds of parents (68%) said they worried most about having politicians rather than educators making decisions about what's learned in the classroom. (Forty percent said they worried "a lot" about that.) That was a higher percentage than the share of parents concerned about their children's happiness and emotional well-being (65%), somebody in the family getting COVID-19 (60%), having their students experience stress or anxiety (63%), being able to finance college (56%), having their kids be bullied (54%) or being able to pay bills (50%).

Whereas teachers were most concerned about students getting COVID (38%), principals said they worried most about personally contracting COVID at school (45%).

"With parents and educators reporting deeper involvement with one another, shared priorities and common goals, the time is now to break down barriers that lead to inequities and support districts as they ground their family engagement strategies in what parents, teachers and principals prioritize — trust and meaningful two-way communication between schools and families," said Bibb Hubbard, founder and president of Learning Heroes in a statement.

More complete results are available in the survey, openly available on the Learning Heroes website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.