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Ready For Better: Why Parents Want Bold Change in K-12 Education

May 5, 2021
Amid the upheaval caused by COVID-19, parents are rethinking the future of school

Before COVID-19, much of the country believed that our public schools served students well. Reluctant to fix outdated systems, bureaucrats and bureaucracies too often dismissed new ideas that would better serve family needs and student success. But according to new information, the COVID-19 upheaval has more families than ever rethinking the future of K-12 education.

Today the Walton Family Foundation released a nationwide poll of 2,700 parents of elementary and secondary students. The goal was to better understand parent experiences over the last year and what they think their children need to feel supported and to succeed.

Here are three insights from the data that feel especially worth elevating:

1. More than ever, parents – and especially Black parents – want bold change. While parents generally favor investing more money in public education, there’s now a strong majority saying “we expect more” of a return on that investment, especially in light of new federal funding. Fifty-eight percent of parents believe American Rescue Plan funds, including nearly $130 billion for education, should be used to reimagine education. Black parents especially support funding bold change as compared to white parents. Eight in 10 Black parents support the American Rescue Plan, but not for business-as-usual. Seventy percent of Black parents want “bold change” to support student success.

2. One size does not fit all. Education innovation means different things to different communities, but one clear focus for parents is ensuring that online learning remains accessible. After uneven remote learning experiences across the country, parents want to build on the experiences of this year for the better. Nearly 30% of parents want their child to be in remote or hybrid learning for the next school year. Meeting parents’ needs will require closing the digital divide for our most vulnerable students and making sure teachers have the resources and tools they need to succeed.

3. Putting “career” back into “college & career.” Parents are adamant that schools must impart the skills and mindsets that will prepare students to be successful in their future careers. Families are looking for support for their students through new or expanded tutoring and career mentorship services. They are also rethinking traditional high school-to-college pipelines and want more financial support for work-based learning and apprenticeship programs.

Parents are sending a clear message. The path back from the disruption of COVID-19 cannot be a path back to what school looked like before. Families of diverse backgrounds want to see change and be part of co-creating that change. Our work is to create opportunities for translating promising initiatives and practices into reality.

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