Parents and Teachers Must Become Critical Allies as We Head Into a Different Kind of School Year

 //  Aug 5, 2020

Parents and Teachers Must Become Critical Allies as We Head Into a Different Kind of School Year

Windy Lopez-Aflitto is VP, Content and Partnerships at Learning Heroes. In this guest post, she shares findings and takeaways from the latest PARENTS 2020 national survey, designed to better understand how families are supporting their children’s academic development during school closures due to COVID-19 and what they’ll need for the year ahead.

Parents and teachers stepped up in unprecedented ways during the incredible challenges brought on by COVID-19 school closures. Now, as states, districts, and school leaders plan several scenarios for what school will look like this year, what’s been long needed in education must be part of the plan: effective home-school partnerships. To be successful, these partnerships must be rooted in trust and a shared understanding of a student’s needs to inform and create a learning plan maximizing teacher, parent, and student roles.

While this year’s road to back-to-school won’t be easy, it offers a window to lean into parents’ strengths, aspirations, and demonstrated engagement with their children’s education. To listen and understand how parents experienced their children’s education during COVID-19 school closures, Learning Heroes conducted a nationally representative survey of more than 3,600 parents and guardians with children in public schools grades K–12. Here are three actionable insights to consider as we prioritize parent-teacher partnerships in reentry plans and beyond.

1. Education is a priority, especially for African American and Latino families. Mindsets and beliefs about parents must reflect this.

Despite significant challenges due to school closures, parents are most worried about the prospect of social (59%) and academic losses (54%) and too much screen time (48%), even more than food (30%) and financial security (40%). In fact, parent aspirations for their children’s future have increased, with 76% of parents saying it is essential their children get a two- or four-year college degree (Latino parents 87%, African American parents 82%, white parents 72%).

It is important to highlight that over the past five years of this annual parent survey, education as a top priority has consistently been higher among Latino and African American parents—those most underserved and undervalued in our school systems. As the current national movement focuses on the complex and deeply rooted racial injustice and inequity in our society, including schools, this offers a fundamental starting point that is not new but is long overdue. We must make faster strides to authentically believe in, listen to, and more effectively support all families so that they can actualize their essential role in the educational success they aspire to for their children.

According to the study, parents will show up differently this school year—they are activated, ready to partner with teachers, and expecting more from their schools. For example, here are concrete actions they plan to take that can be embedded as part of communication feedback loops with parents this year. The vast majority of parents plan to get a better understanding of what their child is expected to learn for their new grade level (73%), find more time to talk to their children about their daily assignments (72%), seek a better understanding of where their child is academically (69%), and talk with the teacher about what they noticed about their child's schoolwork during the school closure (64%). 

Parents are not trained as classroom teachers, but they are the experts of their children. Their insights and motivation to help students succeed need to be valued and tapped.

2. Parents are digging into remote schooling but need clearer expectations and a more accurate picture of their child’s achievement. Without this, they are operating in the dark.

Given this new front-row seat, the majority of parents feel more connected to their child's day-to-day learning (67%). Yet, while nine in 10 parents say they used school-provided materials or resources to learn at home, just over a third had received what they needed for continuous learning, and more than half did not receive clear expectations for their child’s daily/weekly schoolwork.

Even with more hands-on time, the study found—for the fifth year in a row—that nine out of 10 (92%) parents and guardians, regardless of race, income, and education level, believe that their child is at or above grade level in reading and math. Yet national performance data reminds us that only a third of students are performing at grade level, and Scholastic’s (pre-COVID-19) Teacher & Principal School Report found that only 39% of teachers say that students arrive prepared for grade level work.This misperception holds parents back from most effectively supporting their children’s learning.

What sits at the heart of this disconnect? Grades, as revealed in our Parents 2018 study. Without any additional context, parents understandably take grades at face value, believing that an A or B means grade-level mastery. Yet teachers report that grades are a combination of mastery and effort, with the vast majority saying that parents rely too much on grades alone. With recommendations for beginning of year benchmarks and assessments underway as we approach unknown hybrid learning territory, addressing this disconnect is more important than ever. It also seems solvable within what schools are already planning in order to inform teaching. Parents need and deserve access to easy-to-understand data, shared in a respectful way that explains how their children have progressed with core skills, as well as concrete actions and resources to aid parents as facilitators of academic learning and critical social-emotional development.

3. Parents and educators need to be supported by a system that brings them together as critical allies and allows them to redefine their relationships.

COVID-19 has shed light on what we’ve known to be true but has not taken hold at a systemic level—when parents and teachers work together, students succeed. As both educators and families are faced with a myriad of concerns and challenges regarding what this new school year will look like, we must focus on the opportunities that exist to bring us together and perhaps make our schools more resilient in the long run. As part of this, we must focus on supporting parent-teacher partnerships, once and for all moving from a compliance (check the box) mindset to one that is personal and grounded in respect, trust, and clear expectations about roles.

Our study found that about nine in 10 parents want regular communication with their child’s teacher, but less than half are getting it now. Indeed, the largest gap between what parents say would be helpful and what’s actually being offered falls under the category of personalized tools. For example, only 13% of parents said they received the “option for one-on-one tutoring/time with their teacher,” yet nearly half said it would be helpful. A similar gap exists regarding “personal guidance for how to best support your child.” Parents also find texts and phone calls most effective for ongoing communication with teachers (80%), but only a quarter of educators are using these modes of contact.

Several studies have found that the basic ability to reach all families fell short this spring, leaving many parents unable to access critical resources. Surprisingly, a significant number of teachers were also left in the dark without reliable internet of their own to be able to teach. More personalized communication can be facilitated by different technology platforms and texting services that many districts already have in place and will need to improve upon to ensure that all parents are receiving regular and accessible information.

Improving systems that thoughtfully unite parents and teachers so that they can redefine their relationship requires intentionality. But the current alternative isn’t an option in a world of remote and hybrid learning. We can no longer position these two essential roles against one another in the blame game of who’s responsible for the lack of student achievement. Neither one will be able to take on the unforeseen challenges of new learning models alone.