What Parents Want
The dust may be finally settling in public education, but not into a familiar pattern. EdChoice—a non-profit based in Indiana—has been conducting monthly polls of parents since last summer to see how they’re feeling about their children’s education. The latest round of responses (April 2021) indicate that parents are beginning to feel much better. Nearly two-thirds are now comfortable with their child returning to school—an 8 percent increase since March. And three-fourths of parents surveyed are planning on getting their child vaccinated against COVID-19.
By the start of the next school year, public education should finally be back to pre-COVID normal, right? Buses will be running and school buildings will be filled with students and teachers from 8 a.m. to 3 pm. Not so fast.
The most interesting (to me) takeaway from the April survey of parents is this. When asked “After (emphasis mine) the pandemic, if given the option, to what extent would you prefer schooling to be scheduled each week at home with a parent or tutor to provide the best education for your child?” just 47 percent of public school parents said they would prefer for their children to be educated “Completely outside the home.” Thirteen percent said “Completely at home.” The remaining parents want a combination of days in school and days at home—generally two of one and three of the other. Think about that—almost half of parents surveyed want a new normal.
Last spring, just about every parent with a school-age child was forced to try homeschooling. Clearly, many liked it and would like to continue. But the conundrum to me is what to do with the 4 out of 10 parents who want their kids home some of the time—say a couple of days a week. Should districts just ignore them? Should we assume that when that option goes away, those 20 million or so parents will just give in to reality?
Maybe it’s time to expand the definition of a public school. Could we have rotating in-person and at-home schedules? Could we let teachers form micro-schools with a few families from their school? Could we let the education hubs that have popped up to facilitate public education, like YMCA’s or Boys and Girls Clubs, get fast tracked as charter schools?
One thing I know for sure: The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is going to distribute state education funding to school districts based on the average daily attendance in their buildings a year or two ago. DESE is essentially going to pretend that it’s 2019 and every school-age child will be in a building full time. Reconsidering the definition of a public school would be a better way to have money follow children to the environment of their choice.