NEW YORK – Even as schools across New York returned to full-time in-person instruction this year, a new statewide poll of parents identified significant concerns about how the pandemic is affecting their children academically, socially, and emotionally.
The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, found that concerns about unfinished learning, an accelerating mental health crisis, exclusionary school discipline practices, low student attendance, gaps in support services for students with disabilities and multilingual learners, and inadequate extended learning opportunities are top of mind for parents across all racial groups.
An astounding 97% of parents said they want feedback from schools about whether their child is on track academically. The vast majority (86%) also said they are concerned about whether their child’s mental health needs are being met.
The poll also identified significant gaps between resources parents said would be helpful and what they have access to. Of the 97% of parents who said it would be helpful for schools to provide information about whether their child is on track to meet academic expectations for their grade level, just 40% said they had that information. Of 93% of parents who indicated that support for children struggling with mental health needs would be helpful, just 37% said they had access to that resource.
“Many New Yorkers were hopeful that the return to traditional classrooms would lessen the impact the pandemic is having on students,” said Dia Bryant, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “But in reality, the return to in-person instruction introduced students to understaffed classrooms, inadequate academic and social emotional support, and limited opportunities. Educators and policymakers must listen to parents and act with deliberate urgency to invest new state and federal funding into resources to address the inequities that continue to be intensified by this ongoing crisis.”
Poll findings highlight five key equity issues for parents and families:
ISSUE 1: Unfinished Learning
Polling consistently shows that a significant majority of parents, including 87% of all parents in our latest poll, are concerned that their children are falling behind academically. The poll found that 85% of parents are concerned about whether their child is ready for the next grade level, up from 79% in fall 2021, and 69% of parents are concerned their child has suffered from interrupted instruction during the pandemic or fallen behind grade level expectations
What New York can do:
- Measure learning and address the gaps.
- Provide a set of evidence-based curriculum that districts can use to enhance teaching and learning.
- Institute a formative assessment process in every district.
ISSUE 2: Supportive School Environments
A safe and supportive school environment is critical for student academic success. Yet poll findings indicate that 86% of parents are concerned about ensuring their child’s mental health needs are met and 93% of parents think it would be helpful if schools provided additional support and resources if their child is struggling with mental health issues.
What New York can do:
- Invest in mental health experts.
- Provide community-based mental health services in schools.
- Expand community schools statewide.
- Examine attendance data.
- Address exclusionary discipline
ISSUE 3: Extended learning time and summer support
Summer learning and afterschool programs have a positive impact on students’ academic and social emotional well-being, and 90% of parents would find it helpful if schools provided more summer programs for students. Yet one in four parents are concerned that their child will not have the opportunity to participate in summer programming.
What New York can do:
- Provide a summer opportunity for every child.
- Follow the research that summer programming is most beneficial when there is full-day programming
- Provide academic acceleration.
ISSUE 4: Students with Unique Needs
Unfinished instruction and interrupted support services have disproportionately impacted students with unique needs, including multilingual learners and students with disabilities. More than half (53%) of parents whose child has a disability are concerned that their child will forget some of what they learned during the school year, compared to 39% of parents overall.
What New York can do:
- Engage families to learn about their needs and address them.
- The state should provide specific metrics to track outcomes for the use of new resources.
- Bolster and expand early warning systems.
ISSUE 5: Supporting parents
Across seven polls during the pandemic, parents have ideas about what would be most helpful to their families. However, there are consistent gaps between what parents say would be useful and what districts and schools are providing.
What New York can do:
- Districts should utilize their new federal and state funding to address these areas with urgency.
“Before the pandemic, there were concerns about students being career and college ready,” said Amber Rangel Mooney, director of workforce development for The Business Council of New York State, Inc. “Now, unfinished learning threatens to derail a young person’s college or career pathway with broader implications on their ability to succeed in college and the workforce. We share parents’ concerns regarding unfinished learning and hope assessments can be used to identify and address student learning gaps.”
“New York’s economic recovery depends on all students having access to educational opportunities that will ultimately prepare them for the workforce,” said Jason Benitez, vice president of talent, diversity, and inclusion for the Capital Region Chamber. “Our students have lost critical classroom instructional time throughout the course of the pandemic, and it is crucial that our school systems focus on accelerating learning so that all students are meeting grade level expectations and are on track for success once they graduate from high school.”
“As Buffalo and New York State seek to recover from the ongoing pandemic, it is crucial that there is a sense of urgency for all students to have access to the resources they need to ensure they are on track academically,” said Samuel L. Radford III, past president of the District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo and co-chairperson of We the Parents. “Putting students on the path to a bright future and actualizing their full potential means focusing on accelerating learning at every opportunity, not just during the school year, but also during summer break when students are at additional risk for falling behind academically.”
“In spite of additional federal funding targeted and allocated to assist historically underserved students, this poll suggests that school districts in this state continue to systematically underserve students,” said Lori Podvesker, director of disability and education policy for INCLUDEnyc. “Students with disabilities and multilingual learners need the same access to quality instruction as their general education and English-speaking peers. We are very concerned about how the last two-plus years have further widened the pre-pandemic achievement gap between general education students and students with disabilities and English language learners.”
“Our students are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis during this ongoing pandemic,” said Bob Rotunda, executive director of the New York State School Counselors Association. “Supporting students social emotional and mental health is critical to their academic achievement. Now more than ever, it is crucial that our schools invest in school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists, school nurses and other support staff to help our students navigate these difficult times we are in.”
“These poll findings make clear that parents are extremely concerned how interrupted instruction and unfinished learning during the pandemic will impact their children,” said Yvette Russell, chief program officer for Read Alliance. “It is crucial that schools take steps to identify students at risk for falling behind academically, direct resources to accelerate their learning, and make sure parents have the information they need to support their child’s education.”
“New York leaders must act urgently to support our students both now and in the aftermath of the pandemic, particularly students of color and students from low-income households who were already underserved prior to the pandemic,” said Arva Rice, president and CEO of the New York Urban League. “This crisis has exacerbated longstanding inequities in our communities and our education system, which is why it is crucial that students and families have access to the resources and support they need so that all young people are prepared for a bright future.”
About The New York Equity Coalition
The New York Equity Coalition includes Better Schools Better Neighborhoods, Brooklyn YWCA, the Buffalo Urban League, The Business Council of New York State, Business Council of Westchester, Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Democrats for Education Reform-NY, District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo, The Education Trust–New York, Educators for Excellence, EPIC-Every Person Influences Children, Hispanic Federation, ImmSchools, INCLUDEnyc, National Center for Learning Disabilities, New York Urban League, Open Buffalo, Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, Public Policy Institute of New York State, Read Alliance, Say Yes Buffalo, Turnaround for Children, UnidosUS, United Way of New York City, the Urban League of Long Island, the Urban League of Rochester, and the Urban League of Westchester County.