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NPR/Ipsos Poll: Nearly One-Third Of Parents May Stick With Remote Learning

Tang Ming Tung
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One year after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered classrooms around the country and the world, U.S. parents are guardedly optimistic about the academic and social development of their children, an NPR/Ipsos poll finds.

But 62% of parents say their child's education has been disrupted. And more than 4 out of 5 would like to see schools provide targeted extra services to help their kids catch up. This includes just over half of parents who support the idea of summer school.

The nation has lacked solid national data on precisely where classrooms are open to students. In our survey, half of parents said their children were learning virtually, a third were attending in person full time, and the remainder were in person part time. As otherpolls have found, Black and Hispanic parents were far more likely than white parents to say their children were all remote — 65% for Black parents, 57% for Hispanic parents and 38% for white parents.

In a sign of the disruptions that have become routine this school year, 43% of parents said that they had switched among virtual, in-person or hybrid since the previous fall.

It has been "a bit of a journey, to put it mildly," said Nick Ehrenberg, a father of two in Minneapolis who was one of the parents polled. School for his children has shifted back and forth between virtual, hybrid, and virtual again due to closures and quarantine. It has been full time, in person for just the past few weeks.

My kid is doing fine, but we want help

However their children were attending school, 48% of parents agreed that "I am worried that my child will be behind when the pandemic is over." (In this question, as with others in the poll, there were not significant differences in the responses by race or ethnicity).

Yet when asked to pinpoint their areas of concern, robust majorities of parents actually judged their kids to be on track, or even ahead of schedule: in math and science, reading and writing, mental health and emotional well-being, and socialization and communication skills.

Considering their relatively positive outlook on children's development across these areas, it may not be surprising that parents give high marks overall to their kids' schools — 79% said "My child's school has handled the pandemic well," and 82% said their schools had clearly communicated during the year.

When it came to specific concerns, slightly more parents were concerned about socialization and communication skills (22%) vs. academic skills (17% worried about reading and writing and 19% about math).

Susan Hom has a teenage son who is attending school online and lives in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he socializes with a neighbor outside and with friends online over video games. She says she's concerned about the "lack of peer social interaction and also, peer learning. I think they could learn a lot from their peers if they're in the same classroom together."

The biggest area of concern among those NPR/Ipsos asked about was "time management," and even there, just 1 in 4 parents say kids are behind.

"There was some procrastination at times going on, where some things just didn't get done right away, and we had to kind of catch up," said Nick Ehrenberg in Minneapolis. He said his second-grader and kindergartner were learning from home, with himself usually supervising while also working from home.

Still, he said he was not too concerned about his children's progress. "I consider myself privileged and lucky for that."

Full time, in person — or remote indefinitely

Looking ahead, precisely three-quarters of parents polled expect their children's schools to open full time in person next fall. And about half of those whose children now attend hybrid or remotely expect those schools to open full time in person as soon as teachers are fully vaccinated. President Biden has talked frequently about teacher vaccination and recently directed all states to prioritize educatorsfor the shots this month.

However, full-time learning might prove a difficult milestone to reach unless Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are altered, cases plummet, or schools receive a large infusion of money. Current CDC guidelines recommend 6 feet of distance between students, which is only possible with hybrid scheduling, given the size of most classrooms today.

On the other hand, fully 29% of parents told us they were likely to stick with remote learning indefinitely. That included about half of the parents who are currently enrolled in remote learning.

Perhaps in response to this interest, many schools, states and districts are looking at continuing to offer a remote public school option, districtwide or even statewide to make it more efficient. School districts as diverse as West Contra Costa Unified and Riversidein California,suburban St. Louis and Lincoln, Neb.,all say they're offering districtwide virtual schools next year. A Rand Corp. survey found that about 1 in 5 districts are considering it. This could end up being the most significant change in education to extend beyond the pandemic.

America Velez, a mother of five in St. Cloud, Fla., says a virtual school is her preferred option for her daughter. "It's a charter school within Florida, they pretty much stick to the state guidelines. So their teachers, again, have been phenomenal," she said. "But then again, it's been a program that's been around for many years. So very different than ... something that pretty much was thrown together because of COVID."

Personalize my learning, and maybe summer school?

We asked parents about some of the various recovery ideas that education leaders have proposed as a way of addressing the disrupted learning, as well as the emotional hardships of the pandemic itself. Most were fans.

Around 4 in 5 expected their own children would benefit from each of the following: "individualized, detailed assessment," "social and emotional wellness programs," "one-on-one tutoring" and "better software-based practice programs." Across the board, Black and Hispanic parents saw even more potential benefits from these interventions.

"It would be nice if the school would offer some after-school tutoring ... but we may not get informed about it because their grades are fine," said Travis Hall, father to a 10-year-old and 13-year-old in Brownstown, Mich.

And more than 4 in 5 parents support additional help for students in special education.

Kevin LaJuan Godley in San Antonio, Texas, has a 16-year-old daughter with some special needs. Though he says that remote learning has helped her stay focused in school, she has less consistent access to an aide. "Out of class, when she's learning from home, sometimes she gets it, sometimes she doesn't. She doesn't get [support] when she needs it."

Extra learning time was the least popular option presented. When we asked if their children would benefit from "additional school days or extended-day programs," 43% said they expected a "large" or "moderate" benefit.

Just over half said they were in support of summer school as a policy. Travis Hall said he'd support some kind of summer program, but he'd prefer it be an enrichment program, such as building a robot or writing a graphic novel. "Just something else that was more entertaining than just, 'here's the book we're going to study.' When it's 75 degrees and sunny outside, that's not going to work."

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Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.