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Great Expectations: A New Generation of Parents Values Versatility, Accountability in Schools

December 6, 2018
Survey shows millennials want their kids’ education to encompass far more than core academics

The millennial generation has grown up in a time of rapid change.

Economic change has made education after high school more essential than ever, but tough economic circumstances for many millennials have raised doubts for some about the value of college. Cultural change has reshaped families and parents’ roles, with even more two-income and single-parent households trying to find ways to raise their children and make ends meet.

By 2016, around half of all millennial women were moms. And as the oldest edge of the millennial generation – those born between 1981 and 1996 – enter their mid-30s, many now have children in public schools.

Because of these trends and their impact on education and family life, Echelon Insights, with support from the Walton Family Foundation, wanted to better understand what millennial parents think about today’s public schools and measure their expectations for what schools will do for their children.

We convened a series of focus groups of demographically diverse millennial parents to learn firsthand about their hopes and dreams for their children – and the role they expect their public schools to play.

We then conducted a representative national survey of 800 millennial parents to better understand the responsibilities they place on themselves and on the schools.

We explored what millennial parents think schools should be doing to equip students with academic and life skills, how they measure school and student performance – and how schools should be held accountable.

The most critical takeaways include:

Expectations: Millennial parents have high expectations for schools and want them to provide kids with core academic skills – and more. They view schools and teachers as being their partners in the work of raising their children to be self-sufficient, independent, confident young adults.

Income and educational-level differences: Lower-income parents and those without a college education are much less likely to think schools are doing a good job and are less satisfied with the information they have about the schools and how their children are doing. This may be linked to the priority they place on teaching and students' workforce, life and social skills, which may not be measured as effectively by schools as the core academic disciplines. They see teachers, the state and the district as playing a bigger role in holding schools accountable for providing kids with a good education.

Higher-income parents, meanwhile, are more likely to say they expect a good education to put their own child on a path to education beyond high school, and to view themselves as playing a major role in holding their child’s school accountable. They are quite satisfied with the schools and the information they feel they get from the schools.

Prepared for college, work and life: Millennial parents think college-readiness is important, but so too is workforce readiness and preparation for the challenges of life. And though parents believe schools are most responsible for academic preparation, they think schools have a role to play in all three areas.

Student success: These parents take a multi-faceted approach to gauging how their child is doing. They rely on grades and tests for academic subjects and observation to gauge progress on other skills.

Tests plus: Parents believe tests tell only part of the story of how their own child is doing. They also value a positive culture and robust extracurricular activities. Parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher tend to place slightly more emphasis on arts, music, athletics and extracurricular activities, while parents with less than a bachelor’s degree are much more interested in knowing what percentage of a school’s students graduate or progress to the next grade level.

Taking action: Finally, when a school isn’t living up to expectations, millennial parents are open to making changes within a school or giving those children a chance to get that quality education elsewhere.

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