Survey: Parents more involved in kids’ education, but worries abound

Nathan on EducationA new national Met Life/Harris Interactive Poll of students, parents, educators and community leaders contains both surprising and expected results. I think it’s a model because it values the views of each group. Individual schools can use the questions that are asked with educators, parents and students, and compare results with the nation.

My single strongest recommendation to readers is to take a look at the 130-page study yourself. That’s because you may have different conclusions about what’s most important. Met Life also provides copies on line of their past surveys, going back to 1984. You can find their studies online at www.metlife.com.

Met Life’s press release about the study highlights two key findings.

Today’s students report that their parents are more engaged than did students in 1988. Last year, 64 percent of students reported that they talk to their parents about school every day. That’s up from 40 percent who reported daily conversations in 1988. Over the same period, the number of students reporting their parents visit their school at least once a month has almost tripled, from 16 percent to 46 percent. Both talking with youngsters about what’s happening and visiting the school are ways to encourage young people.

These are positive changes. I would not have expected such large increases, but they show that many parents are hearing the message about the importance of being involved in their youngster’s education.

Teacher job satisfaction has dropped 18 points from 2008, to the lowest levels in more than 20 years. The number of “very satisfied” teachers has declined from 62 percent in 2008, to 44 percent last year. The number of teachers who feel that their job is not secure has increased from 8 percent in 2006, to 34 percent in 2011.

Seventy-six percent of teachers report that their school’s budget decreased during the last year. Sixty-six percent report there were layoffs of teachers or other staff in the last year. Thirty-six percent report there were reductions or eliminations of programs in art and music last year.

Many parents and students are also worried. While 34 percent of teachers feel their job is not secure, “62 percent of parents and 54 percent of students worry about parents losing or not being able to find a job.” Seventy-two percent of parents and 65 percent of students “worry about their family not having enough money for the things they need.”

The report urges greater collaboration among different groups. It cites the value of buildings where schools and community groups share space, making more effective and efficient use of funds. I’ll be writing more about this idea in future columns.

There is much more in the report, which is why I encourage you to read it. Many schools already survey faculty, families and students. I think the best use of the report would be for schools to conduct similar surveys, using at least some of the Met Life questions, and then share results.

By itself, a survey does not improve anything. But it can help identify strengths and shortcomings. A survey also can help identify progress and priorities.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, recently received the “Upton Sinclair” award from a national education Web site, www.educationviews.org. Reactions are welcome via e-mail at jnathan@macalester.edu.

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