Must Read BlogPapers July 27, 2020

Making the Grade: Parents’ Perspective on the State of K-12 Learning

In the past two weeks, the debate over K-12 schools reopening has captured the nation’s attention. The current administration has made its position clear – schools should prepare to fully reopen this fall – and is introducing plans to incentivize this outcome with a Republican-sponsored stimulus package.

Fundamentally, K-12 learning is in a tenuous state. Schools that typically support their students’ academic, social-emotional and physical health needs all at once are being forced to compromise. And K-12 parents, as final arbiter, are forced to negotiate these priorities as they consider what’s best for their families.

We took the pulse of parents of PreK-12 students again this past week to address these dynamics and understand how they are planning for the 2020-21 academic year. We highlight below some data and observations around key challenges, needs and expectations; more detailed findings can be found in our presentation.

How do K-12 parents feel about the state of their child’s learning? What are their plans for the 2020-21 academic year?

Students have suffered as a result of school closures:  Despite best efforts, it has become clear that the abrupt shift to remote learning has led to staggering learning loss. Among parents surveyed, more than half claim their child has fallen behind academically, and experts project the average K-12 student has fallen nearly seven months behind. The “COVID slide”, as some researchers call it, will most adversely impact certain demographics (low-income), subject areas (Math) and grade-bands (9-12). While parents acknowledge the effectiveness of certain supports – most notably recorded video instruction (72%) and digital reading programs (62%) – they also express frustration with school leadership over a lack of structure and accountability. Come fall, reversing this “slide” will be an acute challenge – one that will not be confined to the classroom: over half of parents also indicate their child has fallen behind in their social-emotional development (for more on K-12 SEL dynamics, see our recently published national survey on the market here).

K-12 enrollment patterns could dramatically shift: Only 64% of parents are committed to keeping their child enrolled in the same school for the upcoming year; nearly a quarter are planning to switch their child to a new environment, and, with school right around the corner, many remain unsure of what they will do. Public school parents are most likely to cut ties, and, among those doing so, most are planning to keep their children at home. Overall, we expect the number of children in homeschool or accredited virtual schools to increase, while private school enrollment will remain relatively consistent.

A decline in public school enrollment implies less spending from districts; however, among those who remain, there will need to be significant supports and interventions in place. As such, it will be interesting to see how per pupil spending shifts in the face of the current economic climate, and where districts allocate resources. Moreover, for parents assuming the role of educator, there is likely to be a fast-growing marketplace for consumer-oriented tools and resources come fall.

School reopening plans are mostly still in limbo: While schools are actively communicating options with parents, plans for the fall remain largely uncertain. Among parents surveyed, a quarter of them have received a concrete plan for the fall from their child’s school; in these cases, schools are most frequently communicating that they will fully reopen, while fewer are committing to remote learning aspects.

For parents who have not received a concrete plan, half believe their child’s school will reopen with a hybrid model. Not surprisingly given the sensitive circumstances and competing priorities, parents are split about what they consider an “ideal” environment this fall: 37% would prefer their child’s school to be fully operational, nearly 30% prefer hybrid, and a similar percentage would prefer fully remote learning.

Contingency planning is in full effect: More than half of parents have considered – or already developed – a back-up plan for the fall, depending on what scenario unfolds. These plans range from adjusting work schedules for homeschooling purposes to purchasing supplemental education materials. Almost all plans embrace some form of home or virtual schooling. Regardless of their plans, the extent to which parents are preparing alternative options is striking and suggests an eroding trust in K-12 institutions.

At the same time, nearly half of parents feel better equipped to support their children this fall as compared to the spring, citing mental readiness and greater familiarity with tools and resources. Whether educating their children themselves or supporting their child’s K-12 program, parents intend to use a variety of approaches and resources.

We will continue to engage closely with school reopening dynamics and examine the impact of school decisions on educators, student and family needs. We will also be launching our K-12 district segmentation and funding analysis for a selected number of partners in August. This project will run through Q1 2021; if interested in learning more, let us know.

Download the full findings for more detailed data, graphics and other segmentations.



Notable K-12 Reads

A Republican-proposed federal stimulus bill reportedly includes $70B for K-12 schools, with potentially half reserved for schools that reopen this fall

Widespread concerns about school reopening persist, mainly because the role of children in spreading the virus remains unclear

These concerns are intensified in America’s largest school districts, the majority of which are experiencing infection rates that exceed public health standards for community spread

Some parents are opting to form “learning pods” at home, which raises new concerns about equity and access in K-12

Other parents are making concerted effort to work collaboratively with school districts to chart the safest and most effective path forward

Survey finds that some of the most pressing challenges to K-12 remote learning are structural: finding in-home work spaces and accessing and servicing technology

Early indicators suggest private schools are more likely than public schools resume in-person