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New to Parenthood, Millennials Seek Flexibility, Creativity in Schools

March 2, 2018
Kristen Soltis Anderson
Survey finds next generation of moms and dads is hungry for educational change

A new generation is entering that special world of parenthood: millennials. As the generation born during the 1980s and 1990s, millennials are increasingly experiencing the K-12 system from the other side, not as students but as parents of children entering the schools.

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Though many millennials are still learning about school choice and charters, recent survey data shows they are very hungry for big change in schools and are excited about the flexibility and creativity that choice and charters can provide. The Walton Family Foundation, in partnership with the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP), commissioned my firm Echelon Insights to conduct a research study on the millennial generation and their attitudes about education, and last year we published the results of that research.

We started with some big, broad questions. What creates opportunity for kids? What factors make it more likely that a student will succeed? What makes a school a "good school?" I traveled around the country, asking these questions while conducting focus groups of millennials who have recently graduated, have become K-12 parents themselves, or have entered the teaching profession. The focus groups were then followed by a survey, where we asked a large number of millennials to weigh in on these key topics.

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You can find the report here to dig into all the details, but the bottom line is that millennials believe that education is essential to opportunity, and as a result they are open to big, bold change in schools so that more students can access that opportunity. They say they're more worried that we won't make big enough changes, and don't think most students today get a good education. Millennials may get that the way things are in schools today is not always the best way, but that letting teachers be creative in the classroom and providing flexibility and options can help improve the current system.

On the question of choice, in our research, millennials acknowledge that most students simply go to school in the neighborhood where their family can afford to live, and that maybe it shouldn't be that way, as it means students without the same financial resources as others are often stuck without options. While most haven't really heard of the concept of "school choice," when it is explained in a neutral way, half of millennials say they feel positive about it.

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Millennials are also enthusiastic when asked about the idea of charter schools, specifically some of the things charter schools can do with the flexibility they're given, such as create a college-ready culture, teach challenging curriculum, and more. Given the way the millennial generation is accustomed to transparency, accountability, flexibility and personalization in the way they buy products and consume content in their daily lives, it makes sense that they'd expect some of the same things out of our schools and be supportive of charters that try to embody those characteristics.

As more and more millennials become parents with kids in the public schools, the millennial voice will become even more influential in education policy and in what our schools look like in the future. Through this research, we have an idea of what that might look like: creative, nimble, accountable schools, with good options for parents and students regardless of where they live.

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