‘The opportunity gaps in our education system will continue to widen’ unless we ensure quality remote instruction
NEW YORK – Fewer than half (47%) of Black parents and just 61% of Latinx parents in New York State said their child will attend school in-person this fall among parents given the option, compared to 74% of White parents, a disparity driven by greater fears among parents of color that their child or another family member will contract the coronavirus and less overall confidence in the education system, according to a poll released today by The Education Trust–New York.
The disparity was also seen between parents living in low-income households and those from more affluent backgrounds, with just 53% of parents in households making less than $50,000 a year saying their child will attend school in-person, compared to 74% of parents in households making at least $50,000.
The gaps were most pronounced in New York City, where just 34% of Black parents said their child would return to school in-person compared to 84% of White parents, and 46% of parents in low-income households compared to 74% of parents in non-low-income households.
“School reopening is occurring in the national context of the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “If Black and Latinx families and families from low-income backgrounds are disproportionately relying on remote learning this fall, we need to know what our education system is going to do differently to ensure that the same students who have been underserved before the pandemic – and who had unfinished learning in the spring when schools closed – will actually experience quality remote instruction when the new school year begins.
“This crisis has already worsened the pre-existing inequities in public education, and unless we get remote and ‘blended’ learning right this fall, the opportunity gaps in our education system will continue to widen, with lifelong consequences for children.”
The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, underscores the disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on families of color, with Black and Latinx communities experiencing significantly higher rates of infection and suffering a greater economic impact. Parents’ concerns about reopening also speak to a lack of confidence in a school system that has historically, and continues to, underserve students of color and those from low-income backgrounds by denying students the robust opportunities and experiences needed to succeed in higher education and attain a family-sustaining income in the future.
- Majorities of Black parents and parents from low-income backgrounds are hesitant to send their children back to school in-person this fall. Sixty-six percent of White parents and 68% of parents with income of at least $50,000 support reopening school buildings fully or partially, compared to 43% of Black parents, 57% of Latinx parents, and 48% of lower-income parents. Statewide, Black and Latinx parents and parents from low-income backgrounds to a much greater extent believe we should NOT reopen school buildings (52% among Black parents, 41% among Latinx parents, and 48% among lower-income parents). Just 5% of Black parents believe students should attend schools in-person every day.
- Academic concerns are very important to parents and, coupled with the importance of social-emotional support and regular access to teachers, top the list of factors that lead to parents’ decision to send their child back to school in-person. For parents who plan not to send their child to school in-person in the fall, these concerns are secondary to the risks associated with coronavirus, forcing them to prioritize safety over their child’s education.
- Parents are increasingly concerned with ensuring their child feels safe and emotionally at ease during this time (70% very concerning), which is now on par with parents’ concerns that their child will contract the coronavirus (71%) and particularly concerning to parents with younger children (74% very concerning among parents with children in pre-K through 5th grade).
- Satisfaction with remote learning remains low and parents have clear priorities for what districts and schools can do to improve remote learning – including more live instruction, teacher support, technology access, and social-emotional learning. From March to June 2020, satisfaction among parents dropped from 57% citing distance learning as successful to 43%. Now, just 40% of parents say remote learning was successful.
- Parents of high school students are focused on ensuring their child is on track to graduate from high school and go to college or get a job that pays well after they graduate. This is increasingly concerning to parents – 63% of high school parents say they are very concerned about ensuring their child is on track to graduate (compared to 48% in June) and 61% are very concerned about being on track for college or a career (up from 43% in June).
- The chaos and uncertainty caused by partial in-person learning schedules in some districts – with alternating days or weeks of in-person learning and remote learning at other times – may make it harder for parents to choose that option when it is offered, especially if they have multiple children with different in-person schedules and no coordination by the school district. Parent stress is at its highest and most intense level since the beginning of the pandemic: 44% of parents say their level of stress as a parent is much higher than usual (compared to 40% in March in 31% in June). Black and Latinx parents are less likely to be able to rely on working remotely or otherwise planning to stay home for child care during remote learning (Black: 41%; Latinx: 45%) than White parents (51%) and thus are more likely to be affected by difficult schedules for in-person learning.
- Insufficient high-speed internet access further threatens students’ abilities to successfully learn remotely next school year. Nearly half of parents (47%) are concerned about being able to afford internet access or losing their internet access (including 55% of low-income parents and 63% of parents in New York City), which threatens these students’ abilities to successfully learn remotely next school year.
- Food insecurity remains a significant issue for parents. A staggering 39% of parents say they have skipped meals or reduced the number of meals they consume personally or reduced/skipped their child’s meals as a result of the pandemic, up from 33% in June. Nearly half (48%) of low-income parents in the state say they are concerned about access to meals and food for their child this fall (43% overall), as are 51% of elementary school parents and 62% of parents in New York City.
State Policy Implications of Parent Poll Findings
The parent survey results, along with the reality that some school districts plan to start the school year fully online, make it clear that many students – especially Black and Latinx students and students from low-income backgrounds – are not going to be in traditional classrooms this fall and underscore the need for the state to ensure that all students have the opportunity to experience rigorous, high-quality instruction whether school is in-person, remote, or blended.
In response, Ed Trust–NY is calling on state leaders to build on their strong framework for school reopening by taking specific steps to improve the quality of the remote and blended experience. State leaders can support school districts in giving parents greater confidence in their educational program by ensuring that every district:
- Meets explicit minimum requirements that the state should establish for the amount of daily live instruction for all students by grade span, that is also recorded and made available to students online.
- Provides specific attention to the academic and social-emotional needs of the students and communities who were underserved prior to the pandemic and experienced disproportionate unfinished learning during the pandemic, including addressing how time – both the way the school day is structured and the use of extended learning time – and staff will be deployed to meet their needs remotely.
- Addresses high-quality remote curriculum, assignments, and tasks, and teacher professional learning and planning time to support successful implementation.
- Includes daily interaction with teachers including feedback on assignments, and access to school counselors.
- Implements plans for monitoring student engagement and assessing student learning throughout the year and how this data will be used to support students and adjust curriculum and instructional strategies, with specific attention to students who did not successfully engage in remote learning during the spring school closures.
- Knows every student and teacher’s device and internet status and has a plan to ensure access.
- Provides specific attention to adequately meet the heightened needs of students with disabilities, English learners, and students experiencing homelessness.
- Offers guidance for parents – in their home language – on what their child should be learning at each grade level.
“Regardless of whether our students are learning in school buildings or at home with their families, they deserve instruction that meets their individual academic and social-emotional needs,” said Dia Bryant, deputy director and chief of partnerships for The Education Trust–New York. “State and education leaders must acknowledge that Black and Latinx families may largely opt to keep their children at home, and commit to investing in a remote learning experience that is substantial and impactful. Many of these same families have been disproportionately disrupted by coronavirus and systemic racism. Our children can no longer reap the consequences of our failures as a system and we must capture the potential of remote learning to serve, protect, and support students and families.”
The poll had a confidence interval of +/-3.5%. All interviews were conducted via web-based panel, including 52% of interviews conducted via mobile device. Care has been taken to ensure the geographic and demographic divisions of public-school parents are properly represented. Twenty-six percent of participants have a household income of less than $50,000 per year. The survey also included additional interviewing among Black parents in New York City.
For all of The Education Trust–New York’s school reopening resources, including equity reviews of school district reopening plans, visit EdTrustNY.org/ReopeningStronger.