Most parents of grade school students, regardless of income, education level, or ethnicity, believe that their children are on track academically. Most parents also believe that attending college is essential to their children’s success. But according to a new report, Parents 2016: Hearts and Minds of Parents in an Uncertain World, there is a surprisingly wide gap between parents’ perceptions of how well their children are doing in school, and how well their children are actually doing, based on national testing standards. “Understanding the nature of this divide will help educators engage parents, and make a real difference,” says LaVerne Srinivasan, vice president of Carnegie Corporation of New York’s National Program.
The report, commissioned by Learning Heroes, an education nonprofit, will begin to bridge the gap and advance tools that support parents’ concerns and priorities. Bibb Hubbard, the organization’s founder and CEO, introduced the study to a gathering of education experts at Carnegie Corporation in April. Hart Research conducted the survey in collaboration with Univision, and in partnership with the National PTA, National Urban League, National Council of La Raza, and the United Negro College Fund, with support from Carnegie Corporation.
The researchers surveyed 1,374 elementary and middle school parents, with additional polling among Hispanics and African Americans, to make sure they were fully represented in the findings. Ninety percent of all parents report that their children are performing at or above grade level, while less than 35 percent are actually on target, according to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores. Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research, calls the gap “extremely sobering.”
The mission of Learning Heroes is to provide resources to help parents support their children’s success in school and to improve parent engagement. The report goes a long way toward understanding parents’ concerns and goals. The findings also illuminate new opportunities for parent engagement. The number one worry is paying for college, followed by peer pressure, emotional health and happiness, safe use of technology, and bullying. Learning Heroes published an online interactive Readiness Roadmap with supportive tools and resources for social-emotional wellness, college financial planning, and expectations for learning by grade. When their anxieties are allayed, the hope is that parents will be better able to navigate their children’s academic progress.
And while parents put great faith in their children’s teachers, they hold themselves most responsible for their children’s success. With better understanding of national benchmarks, they can learn to ask more of their schools. “They know that most of the good jobs require a college degree,” says Dan Weisberg, CEO of the New Teacher Project. Engaging parents’ priorities simultaneously—their concerns about social and emotional well-being, as well as college costs—will help overcome this communications gap.
“This report is helping us identify effective strategies to engage parents and other stakeholders,” says Ambika Kapur, an education program officer for Carnegie Corporation. Teachers, principals, and even district leaders must also help set a tone that invites parents into the process of determining their children’s learning goals, says Irma Zardoya, president of the New York City Leadership Academy, “to empower parents by bringing them into the schools, gaining their support, and making them part of the decision-making process.”