Poll: New York parents overwhelmingly concerned their children will fall behind academically during school closures

by | Apr 8, 2020 | Press Release

Parents report significant gaps in access to resources and elevated stress levels for families statewide

NEW YORK – Nearly 90 percent of New York State’s public school parents (89%) indicated in a recent poll that they are concerned their children will fall behind academically as a result of coronavirus school closures, ranking higher than any other financial or socioemotional concern.

Nearly two-thirds of parents (63%) said they were “very concerned” about their child falling behind, including 71% of parents who are low-income, 72% of Black parents, and 66% of parents in school districts classified by the state as “high-need.”

The poll, released Wednesday by The Education Trust–New York and conducted by Global Strategy Group, also shows that while parents are generally satisfied with how schools and districts have responded during the pandemic so far, there are large gaps between what parents want and what is currently available in the early weeks of school closures.

According to the poll, parents said that regular access to their child’s teacher rated as what they would find most helpful, even ahead of technology resources. Ninety-five percent of parents reported that it would be helpful to have regular contact with or access to their child’s teacher, but only half of parents (52%) say their child’s schools have made that available.

“The pandemic is an educational equity crisis for vulnerable students who were too often underserved by our education system in ‘normal’ times,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “State leaders, school and district leaders, and teachers and other school personnel are making incredible efforts to support students during this unprecedented and difficult period, and the views of parents expressed in this poll should provide even more urgency to focus on the needs of students who are low-income, students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities as school closures continue.”

Among the key additional findings:

  • More than eight in ten parents say their child’s school is doing an excellent or good job handling the coronavirus (85%) and making learning materials available to students (81%).
  • Parents identified limited access to subjects beyond math and reading/English. Math (90%) and reading/English (90%) are the most common subjects covered by the learning materials families have received so far. There is far less access to other subject areas, such as science, history, and the arts.
  • 70% of parents report that their child’s school is providing free breakfast and/or lunch for students while school is closed, which means almost a third of parents either do not have access to this essential resource or do not know that it is already available. This is particularly concerning in the New York City area: just 62% of parents in New York City and 66% of parents in the suburbs say their school is providing meals for students while schools are closed.
  • More than eight in ten (82%) public school parents report higher levels of stress than usual, including 40% who say their level of stress is much higher than usual. Acute feelings of stress are particularly common among parents of children with disabilities, Latinx parents, and parents living in New York City – who are at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

The parent responses underscore the critical need for state policymakers and school districts to develop plans that ensure all students have access to the educators, instructional materials, school meals, and socioemotional support they need to stay on track during school closures, as well as plans for how they will provide students the additional support they may need when school resumes.

“School districts have submitted their initial plans to the state for how they will address instructional continuity, school meals, and child care, and we call for the immediate public release of all school plans so that there is transparency about how schools intend to address students’ needs, where there are gaps that need to be filled, and where school districts are providing great examples that can be shared statewide,” said Rosenblum.

Access to online learning

With 88% of parents reporting that their school district is currently using or will soon use remote or distance learning, parents with a household income of less than $50,000 per year are less likely to say distance learning has been successful (52% rate the experience at an 8-10 out of 10) than parents who earn more than $50,000 per year (59%).

There are clear barriers to families’ ability to participate in online learning, with parents identifying a lack of sufficient devices at home, and limited access to reliable, high-speed internet as key challenges.

  • 64% of parents said schools lending mobile technology devices would be very helpful. That number rises to 72% in families with a household income less than $50,000, and is even higher among parents who live outside of New York City in high-need school districts in large cities (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers).
  • Lack of reliable internet access was a particularly common issue in New York City, with 52% of parents citing that as a reason they did not feel confident their child could participate in distance learning. Two-thirds of parents (67%) say providing free internet access to families while schools are closed due to coronavirus would be very helpful for families like theirs, yet only 21% of parents report that their school district has made this available for students.
  • More than one in four parents statewide said they did not know how to use the distance learning software provided by their districts.

English learners and students with disabilities 

Historically underserved students are at particular risk for falling behind academically during this prolonged period of school closures, and poll results indicate gaps in access to resources for English learners and students with disabilities.

  • More than a third (38%) of non-English home speakers and a quarter of native Spanish speakers say their child’s school has not provided materials in other languages. Navigating remote learning software can be challenging even for English-speaking parents, so making accommodations for non-native English speakers and English learners should be a top priority as schools look to reach full participation in remote learning in the weeks ahead.
  • Parents of children with disabilities report particularly higher levels of stress than usual as a result of the crisis, with 47% reporting much higher levels of stress than usual (compared to 40% among parents overall). Parents of children with disabilities are also particularly concerned with ensuring their child’s mental well-being while they are at home (53% say this is very concerning, compared to 44% of parents overall).

Reflecting many of the concerns that parents raised in the survey, The Education Trust–New York and partner organizations today also released a series of briefs looking at how schools can support:

  • Multilingual Learners, in partnership with the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Hispanic Federation, Ibero-American Action League, and New York Immigration Coalition;
  • Students with disabilities, in partnership with EPIC-Every Person Influences Children, INCLUDEnyc, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities; and
  • Students experiencing homelessness, in partnership with SchoolHouse Connection.

About this poll: The survey had a confidence interval of +/-2.8%. All interviews were conducted via web-based panel, including 59% of interviews conducted via mobile device. Care has been taken to ensure the geographic and demographic divisions of public school parents are properly represented. Fifty-eight percent of those interviewed said their child receives free or reduced-price breakfast and/or lunch at school, and 36% have a household income of less than $50,000 per year. “Suburbs” are defined as Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Orange & Putnam Counties; “Upstate Cities” includes Erie, Monroe, Onondaga, and Albany Counties.

More details and resources are available at EdTrustNY.org/Coronavirus.