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Survey: Over Time, Remote Learning Loses Fans

Patti Singer

As families and teachers await word from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on what schooling will look like in September, parents appear to be less satisfied with distance learning the longer it goes on.

The dissatisfaction was driven in part by a large gap between the experiences of low-income and higher-income families, according to the poll by Global Strategy Group, which partnered with The Education Trust-New York.

An online survey in June among 800 parents of children in New York public schools showed that:

  • From March to June 2020, satisfaction dropped from 57% citing distance learning as successful (8 to 10 on a 0-10 scale), to 43%. There was a 16-point drop among Black parents. Low-income families were much less likely to describe distance learning as successful (36%) than higher-income families (48%). The gap widened since March.
  • Positive ratings of distance learning dipped across regions over time.
  • The root of parental dissatisfaction with remote learning is the fear that their child will fall behind. Among Black parents, 67% very concerned about their child being on track to graduate compared to 49% of white parents.
  • Access to teachers needs to be improved. About 56% of parents say they have had regular contact and 53% say that their child has had regular live online lessons. Black parents are emphasizing this need even more, with 8-in-10 saying that regular contact (80%) and live access (75%) would be very helpful.

The Education Trust is a statewide education policy and advocacy organization. Among respondents to the poll, 31 percent have an annual household income of less than $50,000.

If families are looking for clues as to what the governor might say or what might happen come September, the state Education Department submitted an application for a federal grant to support blended and remote learning. The application is separate from the report from The Education Trust.

The state Education Department requested $19.9 million in the Rethink K-12 Education Models grant competition. The funds would go to developing and launching Teaching in Blended/Remote Learning (TRLE) program. According to a news release from the Education Department, TRLE would “addressed the immediate and urgent learning needs of New York’s most vulnerable students and parents during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing educators with the tools, resources, and training to facilitate blended/remote instruction when needed.”

According to the news release, TRLE is expected to serve 1.9 million of New York’s most vulnerable students, engage over 190,000 educators and provide over 450,000 hours of wraparound services and support to build the capacity of teachers and educational leaders to effectively implement blended/remote learning.

Interestingly, that plan would seem to address some of the reasons that low-income parents in particularly grew dissatisfied with remote learning.

The June survey from The Education Trust reported that 76% of low-income families say their child’s school is doing an excellent or good job in handling the situation, compared to 83% of higher income families. In March, 84% of low-income families gave their school a positive rating.

The survey reported that the pandemic widened existing gaps:

  • Black and Latinx (52%) parents are less likely than White (57%) parents to say their child got regular live access to their teacher, such as live online lessons or phone/video calls, and parents of color are less likely (52%) to say they have been provided with regular contact with or access to their child’s teacher compared to white parents (59%).
  • Parents with incomes over $100,000 per year are much more likely to report that their child has received regular feedback on assignments (60%) than parents with very low incomes (44%).
  • Parents with very low incomes are also much less likely to say that they have been provided with summer learning materials for their child (23%) compared to parents with incomes over $100,000 (33%), though both figures remain low.
  • Students from low-income backgrounds are less likely to have access to their own tablet, computer, or other device to participate in remote learning (77%) than higher-income students (84%). • Access to reliable internet: Low-income (75%) and Latinx students (78%) are much less likely to have access to fast and reliable internet compared to higher-income (88%) or White (85%) students.
  • Food insecurity is real, with 51% of parents from low-income communities, 51% of Latinx parents and 48% of Black parents concerned about their child’s access to meals and food this summer, compared to just 36% of higher-income parents and 36% of white parents. Overall, 1 in 3 parents (33%) and 40% of low-income parents have skipped or reduced the size or number of meals for themselves or their child as a result of the pandemic.

With about two months before the 2020-21 school year is supposed to start, parents are equally worried about additional support for children who have fallen behind and keeping students safe. Parents prefer in-school settings over exclusively remote learning but want rigorous cleaning protocols, regular COVID testing of staff and students and physical distancing.

In a companion report about reopening schools, The Education Trust urged that school plans be built on equity.