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Divide between perception and reality should sound alarm for parents to be part of recovery plans

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Students wait in a hallway to enter their classrooms on the first day back to school at Sunkist Elementary School in Anaheim, Calif., on Aug. 11, 2022.

Despite headlines declaring newly found parent power since COVID-19 upended education, parents risk being on the sidelines as schools make up for pandemic-related lost instruction. This blind spot, which comes at a time when parents expect and plan to be highly engaged in their child’s education, could have serious consequences for learning recovery.  

Based on Learning Heroes’ national survey from May 2022, a whopping 89 percent of both parents and teachers agree that joining forces will be essential in overcoming the pandemic’s impact on children’s learning. A significant majority of parents report they will get a better understanding of what their child is expected to learn at their new grade level this year (82 percent), seek a better understanding of where their child is academically (79 percent), and talk to their child’s teacher about what they notice regarding their child’s schoolwork (72 percent).

Given the massive investment through federal ESSER funds and the daunting task ahead to close learning gaps, especially for students who were in virtual or hybrid learning environments, this is exactly the time for parents and families to be seen as an integral part of the recovery plan.

Take tutoring as one strategy securing billions of dollars in financing and making traction nationally to help students accelerate their learning. Studies have found concentrated high impact tutoring to be one of the most effective strategies for academic catch up. One example is Chicago Public Schools’ partnership with Saga Education. Organizations like Saga have data showing that when their programs are properly implemented, they can achieve up to 2.5 years of additional math learning in one year, close the achievement gap between high- and low-income students by 50 percent and reduce math course failure by 63 percent.

Parents deserve to know that this sort of high quality, targeted and equitable instruction is available, how it will support their child’s learning, and how it can be accessed. In addition to ensuring parents understand the benefits of this type of tutoring, even more importantly, our data show that parents aren’t likely to think it’s needed for their child.  

In May of 2022, a staggering 92 percent of parents — regardless of race, income or education level — report their child is performing at or above grade level in both reading and math. Yet, National Assessment of Educational Progress’ recent release of data on nine-year-olds between 2020 and 2022 reported significant declines in reading and math scores. This gap between perception and reality likely stems in part from parents’ comfort that their child makes good grades: More than eight in ten parents (84 percent) say their child gets all B’s or above. While teachers say grades are subjective, parents understandably equate them with their child being at grade level.

Further, while parents are worried about their children’s education across a range of issues — emotional health, mental wellbeing, anxiety, stress, bullying, exposure to violence — they are less worried about academics. Nineteen percent of parents worried a lot about their children’s reading and math skills — the bottom of the list of 14 items we polled.

Given this context, it isn’t surprising that when we asked parents what activities they planned to prioritize this past summer, tutoring was dead last. However, when we presented a scenario reflecting multiple academic measures that showed their child might not be performing at grade level, the percentage of parents who said they would take advantage of tutoring to support their child doubled. This demonstrates that when parents have an accurate and holistic picture of their children’s academic progress, they will take action critical to addressing the massive learning loss most students experienced.

Imagine if parents and teachers teamed up in ways they both say they want. From this partnership parents could have a comprehensive understanding of how their child is performing given the pandemic’s toll and the impressive results tutoring can deliver. Parents would more likely ensure that their child has access to high-quality tutoring and the other supports students and schools need to succeed. This could be game changing for our country.

As education leaders and policymakers come to grips with the new NAEP data, it will be critical to think of parents as part of the solution. It’s long overdue to not just think about the role families play in student success when we are in absolute crisis mode, but in ongoing, sustaining, culturally affirming ways. It’s time to take the blinders off and recognize the essential role parents play in their child’s education. Schools and school districts should actively engage with parents in their recovery plans and ensure opportunities for strong teacher-parent communications that can help weather the future crises that are sure to come.

Bibb Hubbard founded Learning Heroes to help parents most effectively advocate on behalf of their children’s educational success. The organization conducts extensive parent and educator research and supports parents and guardians as their child’s most effective education advocates. Previously, she held leadership positions at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Scholastic, the White House, and the U.S. Labor Department. She sits on the board of the New York City Leadership Academy and is the proud mother of two teenage sons.

Tags education gap Education in the United States Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education math proficiency Parents student testing test scores tutoring

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