Long Island parents gave high marks to the job schools have been doing during the pandemic, but believe remote learning falls short and want to know more about their children's academic performance, according to a new poll.
Parents also worry that their children are losing out in key areas of learning, the poll conducted by The Education Trust-New York found. The poll found significant concern among low-income parents and communities of color statewide regarding academic progress and whether their children will graduate from high school.
The findings come as more Long Island school districts seek to reopen to in-person learning. School boards and educators, meanwhile, are trying to balance reopenings with safety and academic needs. The majority of the Island's districts, because of the coronavirus pandemic, have been operating on a hybrid schedule of in-person and virtual instruction.
"That's the tightrope we are all walking," Brentwood Superintendent Richard Loeschner said, referring to the difficult decisions, during a panel discussion hosted last month by the Long Island Latino Teachers Association. High school seniors in his district recently returned to in-person learning five days a week.
But, "We are not prepared to bring [all] our kids back full time," Loeschner added, citing concerns about social distancing requirements. "I would obviously love to. There are many parents obviously that would love to have that, but we are trying to be judicious in how we bring students in."
Brentwood is one of Long Island's largest and most diverse districts, according to the state report card, with more than 17,000 students, including about 9,100 learning full- or part-time on-site.
The Education Trust poll, which included more than 110 parents from Long Island, was conducted Feb. 25 to March 4. Statewide, 801 parents were polled, including those on the Island.
The poll found that 86% of Long Island parents rate the job their child’s school is doing handling the pandemic as positive, but only 40% rate remote learning as successful. Parents also identified several resources that schools are still not providing, including access to their child’s teacher, feedback on assignments, and technology support for remote learning, the poll found.
"Parents do understand that this is an uncertain time and an unprecedented time, and leaders are taking every avenue they can to create good conditions," said Dia Bryant, interim executive director of The Education Trust-New York, a nonprofit focused on education equity. "What you see in remote learning is a bit of the frustration with the ongoing changes between having to find child care or being at home with the family or navigating the remote learning space … or the complexity of trying to teach your own child."
In Copiague, parents recently collected hundreds of signatures to reopen schools five days. Parent Cindy Farley, 43, has two children in the district: one who attends prekindergarten five days a week and another in second grade who is on a hybrid schedule.
"It's the lack of education, the lack of motivation to work on the days he is home and the lack of socialization," Farley explained as the reasons she'd prefer her 8-year-old son be in school full time. She said neighboring districts have been offering that schedule to elementary children. She also is concerned about the poor communication from her son's school on his academic progress.
High school students invited back full time
The Patchogue-Medford school district, with about 7,500 students, is scheduled to offer in-person learning to all high school students starting Monday, Superintendent Donna Jones told the LILTA panel. The district's elementary and middle school students already can attend school in-person five days a week.
"I have seen so many children that have been socially, emotionally and mentally affected on every age level, every grade level — so many heart-wrenching stories that I really have tried to work every which way I can to bring children back safely," Jones said. "They need to be in school. They need to have connections with people, and we need to be able to see them. We need to see them because if there is something going on, it is sometimes hard to see behind a screen."
The majority of Long Island parents, 78%, said providing information about their child's academic performance at grade level is very helpful, but only six in 10 parents noted this was offered at their child’s school, according to the poll. Bryant said parents want communication from their child's school, but they also want to be involved in decision-making.
In Westbury, the district sends messages to parents in three languages — English, Spanish and Haitian Creole — Superintendent Eudes Budhai said. In addition, school leaders host a Zoom call for the school community where parents' questions are answered.
"Communication is critical," Budhai said. The district remains on a hybrid schedule, and there are no immediate plans to bring students back.
The poll found that 40% of local parents rate their child’s remote learning as successful, and nearly three-quarters of parents would like extra support options for children who are struggling academically.
Board trustee: 'I try to do a little bit more as a parent'
Sidney Joyner, a South Huntington Board of Education trustee who has two children, in kindergarten and fifth grade, said his district has "done a pretty good job of getting the word out there" regarding updates.
As a parent, he does have concerns about his children’s academic progress. "I try to do a little bit more as a parent to fill in the gaps for my children. I try to give them as much support as possible," he said.
South Huntington Superintendent David Bennardo said the district recently received a $5,000 grant from the NAACP to provide tutoring for students in need of academic support.
The district has begun a staggered return of five days a week with its secondary students. High school seniors returned last month. The district will continue to offer a mix of remote, hybrid and five-day-a-week, in-person instruction for its 6,000 students.
"We are one of the few districts that will still maintain remote, hybrid and in-person learning," Bennardo said. "While we don't think hybrid is the best model for some families — right now that is what made them comfortable … there will come a day next year we hope when everybody is back in the room."
Districts are hoping to have all students back in school starting this fall, especially if more vaccines are approved for children. Those 16 and up in New York will be eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine starting Tuesday. Pfizer also announced on Wednesday that its vaccine has shown in clinical trials to protect kids as young as 12.
The Education Trust poll
The Education Trust, a nonprofit education equity group, partnered with New York City-based Global Strategy Group to conduct a statewide desktop-mobile poll — of 801 parents — from Feb. 25 to March 4. Long Island's numbers, of more than 100 parents, were broken out. Here are some of the findings:
- 85% of parents rate as positive the job their child’s school district is doing handling the coronavirus this academic year.
- 40% of parents rate the remote learning as successful.
- 78% of parents say providing information for parents about whether their child is on track to meet the academic expectations for their grade is very helpful.
- 36% of parents say compared to traditional in-person classes before the pandemic, their child’s ability to learn at their own pace has become worse.
- 51% of parents say compared to traditional in-person classes before the pandemic, their child’s engagement and interest in their schoolwork has become worse.
- 46% of parents say they have received little to no information about whether their child has suffered learning loss or has fallen behind grade-level expectations as a result of schools being closed.
- 83% of all parents are concerned whether their child is meeting state academic standards, but that concern is intensified for parents of historically underserved students — with 59% of parents of color, 77% of Black parents, and 58% of parents from low-income households saying they are very concerned.
- 83% of all parents of students in grades 9-12 indicated they are concerned whether their child will graduate from high school. The percent of parents from low-income households who indicated they are very concerned about whether their child will graduate from high school was 72%.