The first two blogs in this series (here and here) talked about two independent polls that indicate a lot of parents are considering not sending their children back to public schools even if those schools are reopened in the fall. The big surprise, parents in a surprisingly large proportion, somewhere around 40%, are seriously considering homeschooling from this point on regardless of whether fears about the COVID-19 virus are ever put to bed or not.
Still, while those polls were conducted by independent polling organizations, those early polls were sponsored by pro-school-choice groups, and some might wonder if that could lead to biases in the surveys.
So, the announcement that USA Today had recently sponsored yet another survey of teachers and parents caught my attention. Would the USA Today numbers support the earlier polls?
The quick answer is the USA Today poll responses are not that different from the earlier poll results.
And, aside from a notable number of students not coming back, a good number of teachers might not come back, either.
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Here is a quick summary of the results of many questions in the USA Today survey, which was conducted between May 18 to 21, 2020. There were 505 teachers and 403 parents in the survey.
- 1 in 5 teachers say they are unlikely to go back to school if their classrooms reopen in the fall.
- 6 in 10 parents say they would be likely to pursue at-home learning options instead of sending back their children this fall, with 30% saying they are very likely to do this.
- Most teachers say they have been thrust into new roles they were not well-trained to perform.
- 46% of parents and a whopping 76% of teachers say students have fallen behind since COVID-19 shut down the schools. In fact, half of the teachers are very worried about this.
- Two-thirds of teachers say they haven’t been able to do a proper job since starting to teach remotely.
- Surprisingly, 60% of new teachers (worked 5 years or less) struggled the most with distance learning although teachers Age 55 and older have been challenged the most by the required technology.
- In another surprise, just 3% of parents reported they lacked reliable internet service to support distance learning. Parents also reported the software was easy to use. Note: These results stand out in sharp contrast to earlier reports about these issues.
- Among lower income families (less than $50,000/year), only 20% say their kids lack the necessary software and equipment for online learning.
- Another surprise – lower-income households are MORE interested in homeschool or online classes than higher income households. Note: Could it be that, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, parents of lower-income students, who as a group have not been well-served by the traditional public school system, have discovered they can do a better job for their kids by keeping them in a home environment?
It should be noted that USA Today claims its poll, despite relatively low numbers surveyed, has a margin of error of only around 5 – 6 percentage points. Still, some of the findings are indeed surprising, at best.
One key message here is that if the statistics from what are now three independent surveys are even remotely accurate, it looks like COVID-19 could lead to a major reduction in public school attendance next fall with a notable rise in demand for homeschooling and other non-public school choices. And, an appreciable portion of this demand for choice could be coming more from low-income rather than high-income households.
It seems clear that any planning by our school systems for a fall reopening need to include determining how many students the system will probably need to serve. It might be that far less facility modification and disruption to schedules will be required, but only a really detailed survey of parents in each school will be able to determine this.
It also seems likely that there will be pressure to allow parents more choices if they want their child to learn in a home environment, whether as a pure homeschool situation independent of the public schools or in a distance-learning supported option supplied by the public school system.