What American Families Experienced When Covid-19 Closed Their Schools: Parents report little contact with teachers and less student learning, but also broad satisfaction; charter and private schools provide more opportunities for student-teacher interaction

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From: Education Next(Vol. 21, Issue 1)
Publisher: Hoover Institution Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,017 words
Lexile Measure: 1390L

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THE 2020 EDUCATION NEXT SURVEY reveals a paradox related to what American parents think about the quality of the instruction their children received after schools closed their doors in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The parents of a substantial majority of school-aged children--71%--think their kids learned less than they would have in school. At the same time, parents of 72% of children say they are satisfied with the instruction and activities provided by schools during the closure (see Figure 1).

What experiences account for these seemingly contradictory opinions? And how did those experiences vary across social groups and the nation's district, charter, and private school sectors? Since schools closed, commentators have used a variety of methods to understand the likely implications of this episode for student learning and what it bodes for the future, from analyzing school districts' remote-learning plans to tracking reports of homeschooling on social media. Yet we lack a thorough and systematic picture of what American families experienced during the pandemic.

New data from our 14th annual public-opinion survey help to close this gap. We administered the survey to a nationally representative sample of 1,249 parents with children in kindergarten through 12th grade whose schools closed during the pandemic, including oversamples of parents who identify as Hispanic and parents who identify as Black (see sidebar for details on the survey methodology). These parents answered questions about each of their children whose school closed, including 2,147 children in total. We also gathered data from a nationally representative sample of 490 K-12 teachers whose schools closed because of the pandemic, enabling us to compare what parents reported receiving to what teachers said they delivered.

A New Learning Landscape

Despite early fears that schools would focus remote instruction on reviewing what students had already learned, parents' responses suggest that the schools attended by 74% of students continued to introduce new content during the closure (see Figure 2). Most of the rest--schools attended by 24% of the children--are said to have provided instruction or activities that reviewed what students had learned prior to the closure. Parents of just 2% of students say their child received no instruction or activities.

By large measure, most remote instruction was delivered online. The parents of 87% of children say their child participated "primarily on a computer, tablet, or similar device." This was the case for 73% of lower elementary students and for nearly all high school students (96%).

Responses vary more widely in regard to how often children heard from their teachers and schools (see Figure 3). While some parents say their child interacted regularly with their teachers during the closure, others say they went for long stretches with little or no contact. For example, the parents of nearly half of students (46%) say their child met with a teacher multiple times during a typical week for whole-class instruction delivered by videoconference or some other way. Another 24% are said to have done so just once a week, while about one in five students (19%)...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A645314681