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Education Reform is Happening … What Do Parents Have to Say About it?


9/3/2013

Nobody cares more about a child’s success in school than his or her parent.  Yet parents’ voices are often notably missing in most high-stakes discussions on how schools are run, how teachers are selected, compensated and supported, and how often and to what end students are tested.

Our schools have gone through massive changes in the past ten years, with new and better systems already in place to support and evaluate teachers, and much higher expectations for the accountability of teachers and schools to help children be ready for success in college, career, and life. And now we face yet another major adjustment as the more rigorous tests associated with the new Common Core State Standards – an effort led by over 40 states to implement higher academic standards for students that will be common across the country – demonstrate just how far we still have to go.

So what do parents think about all this?  As a long-time funder of efforts to reform education and ensure all students have access to effective teachers, the Joyce Foundation wanted to find out.  So, we teamed up with the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center to ask these questions of 1,025 public school parents around the country.

Happily, parents are notably positive about the quality of their schools and the quality of their children’s teachers.  Specifically, 76% of parents describe their children’s schools and 82% describe their children’s teachers as “excellent” or “good.”  And, 61% of parents think their child’s education is better than the education they received – up from 55 percent in a survey of parents conducted in 2010.

Admittedly, we were surprised by some findings.  For example, when asked about a broad set of problems that consume a lot of oxygen in education circles, parents seemed to be less concerned about these issues than when surveyed in 2010.  These issues include low expectations, inequitable funding, low test scores, quality of instruction and curriculum, amount of classroom time, lack of technology, bullying and availability of arts, sports and other extracurricular offerings. 

It would be wrong, however, to interpret these positive findings as complacency or as a reason to retreat from reform.  In fact, the survey shows that parents strongly support high standards and rigorous accountability.  And, though they mostly think their children’s teachers are terrific, they strongly support (72%) making it easier to dismiss those who are poor-performers.

About half of parents are familiar with the Common Core and, of those who are familiar, five times as many (55%) think that higher standards will improve education than think they won’t (11%).   Parents also think regular testing and assessment of their children to be sure they stay on track is very important (74%), and they strongly believe (75%) that standardized tests accurately measure student performance. 

In fact, testing is one area that is controversial in education circles – but on which parents have few doubts.  Perhaps because they believe standardized tests are fair and accurate, they strongly support using test results both to identify student needs and rank schools, evaluate teachers, and as graduation requirements. 

In a sign of how expectations and thoughts on accountability have shifted, while parents, as would be expected, reported caring deeply about a teacher’s passion, attentiveness, and care for students, almost everyone in the survey (91%) also thinks that teachers should be able to demonstrate whether children in their classrooms are learning. This may seem obvious, but only recently have states and districts have adopted these new standards and evaluation systems.

However, mere adoption is not enough to change outcomes for students. Policymakers and system leaders must ensure that these reforms are implemented well and that they are used to further help teachers improve and serve students. Common Core can provide clear expectations for what students are supposed to learn, but teachers must receive the preparation and instructional materials to teach the new content. Teacher evaluations can provide clear information on a teacher’s effectiveness, but schools must be willing to use this information to provide targeted supports to teachers to help them improve their craft and grow in the profession, not just to evaluate and remove under-performing teachers. 

Our nation’s schools have come incredibly far in the last ten years, and Common Core will raise the bar even higher.  We all know that teachers need the resources, training and support to succeed in getting our kids over this bar—which most definitely includes support from parents.  Parents said it loud and clear in this survey: 96% list teacher quality and parental involvement as the two most important factors that contribute to a child’s success in school. Parents want to do their part. The challenge for the education system is to live up to the expectations of parents.

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