California Parent Poll: Fall 2020

New Statewide Poll of California Parents Finds Satisfaction with Distance Learning Has Declined Significantly

Several weeks into the school year, parents are not finding distance learning successful and there are clear issues that need to be addressed for parents as the school year continues. Parents are far less likely to rate distance learning as successful (35% 8-10 on a 0-10 scale) relative to the start of school closures and distance learning in March (57% 8-10). This is mainly driven by low income parents who are not only the most likely to rate distance learning as unsuccessful (30% 8-10 on a 0-10 scale) compared to higher income parents, (37%) but are also generally more unsatisfied (36% 8-10 on a 0-10 scale), along with parents of color (37%), with how their child’s school has planned and prepped for the fall semester. Additionally, a quarter of Californian parents (25%) cite that they have received little to no information regarding their child’s school’s plan for the fall semester (19% in March), with low-income (28%), parents of color (27%) and those in the LA Area (31%), San Diego (32%) and Central Valley (41%) more likely to report receiving little or no information about the fall semester.

When it comes down to it, academic concerns and whether their child can successfully finish the school year are very important to parents. So, whether it be in-person learning, remote learning, or the combination of the two, parents indicate clear priorities on the best ways to improve the current educational experience for both them and their child.

  • Addressing racism and racist practices at their child’s schools is important to parents. About one-third (31%) of parents say that leadership at their child’s schools speak little to none about issues of racial injustice. Interestingly, white parents are more likely to say that leadership at their child’s school talks about these issues (52% a lot/some), than Black (41%) and Latinx (42%) parents. Similarly, while parents are generally satisfied (56% satisfied) with their schools’ approach to addressing and teaching about racism as part of the curriculum, parents of color are overall less satisfied (52%) than white parents (63%).

However, there is commonality among parents when it comes to diversifying educators at their child’s school. Parents across racial lines believe it is important for their child’s school and/or school district to hire and retain educators of color (75% important).

  • Reliable internet access. Lack of reliable internet access is a top concern among families this fall, with almost half (44%) of parents concerned about whether their family will be able to afford internet access. This issue is particularly common for low-income families (58%), Latinx parents (52%) and those in Los Angeles (54%). Similar to March (67%), two-thirds of parents (66%) say providing free internet access to families during this fall semester would be very helpful for families like theirs, yet only 35% of parents report that their child’s school has made this available for students. Additionally, only 9% report that they receive internet support from their school.
  • Closing technological barriers. Sixty-six percent of parents say that their school lending technology devices like iPads or laptops to each child in the family would be very helpful, yet only about 6 in 10 parents say their children have access (59%). Nearly a third of parents say that their child does not receive any technology support – free internet or mobile device – and of those who are receiving support, about one in five (19% negative) say that the support given to the family is in fair/poor condition. This is of particular concern for Asian parents who are not only more apt to say that they are not receiving any technology support (50%) but that the quality could be improved (25%). Low-income parents are more likely to say they are receiving technology support from their child’s school (76%) than higher income parents (65%); however, lower-income households are more likely to negatively rate the quality (26% lower-income, 16% higher-income).
  • Subjects beyond math and reading/English. Math (92%) and reading/English (88%) continue to be the most common subjects covered by the learning materials families have received so far (March 89% and 85%, respectively). As schools move through the fall semester and start solidifying plans for spring, schools should continue to look for ways to close this gap and get 100% in both subjects as these numbers still mean that close to one in every ten children is not receiving materials in those subjects. Beyond the two main courses of study, there is a significant drop-off across the state: science (74%) and social studies (70%) make up a second tier while other subjects like physical education (50%), music and the arts (36%) and world languages (28%) are getting significantly less attention.
  • Food and financial insecurity. Over half of low-income households (57%) say they are uneasy about their family’s financial situation over the next few months. This includes a staggering 37% of parents overall who say that they have skipped meals or reduced the number of meals they consume personally or reduced/skipped their child’s meals because of the pandemic. Low-income parents (46%), parents in Los Angeles (45%) and Latinx parents (40%) are particularly likely to have skipped or reduced their family’s meals because of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, 64% of low-income parents say that resources to help with food, housing, employment, health and other emergency needs would be very helpful, but only 40% of state schools are working to bridge this gap – suggesting this is a priority need among this population that should be addressed.
  • Increased funding and overwhelming support for Education-Related propositions. Two-thirds (69%) of parents strongly support the federal government investing more public funds to help schools during the pandemic. Additionally, parents are generally supportive of both education-related proposition measures to be passed on the ballot this year. Seventy-seven percent of parents say they support Proposition 15, while 66% say they support Proposition 16.

Parents report higher levels of stress for students. Parents’ levels of stress have remained roughly the same since first tested at the beginning of the pandemic (78% higher, respectively), but their child’s/children’s levels of stress have changed by a significant margin. In March, only 13% of parents said their child’s stress level was much higher than usual, but now that number is 25%. The increase in the level of stress for their children is mostly driven by parents that have children in high school (30%), those in the Greater Los Angeles Area (33%), and Latinx parents (29%). High school students are going through adjustments with their future, which could also be contributing to the increase in their child’s stress levels. More than one in four (28%) of 11th and 12th-grade parents say their child has altered their plans after high school graduation due to the coronavirus – with Latinx parents (32%) and those in Los Angeles the most likely to say so (39%).

There are stark racial and economic disparities that could have devastating implications for California public school students. Divisions along racial and economic lines not only show that there are gaps in educational opportunities afforded to students based on their background, but also highlight that low-income parents and parents of color are much more likely to be wary of schools reopening and the potential effect it will have on their families:

  • Full-time distance learning among parents of color and low-income families is more prevalent. Parents of color are much more likely to report that their child is distance learning full-time (82%) compared to white parents (74%), as are low-income parents (83%) relative to higher-income parents (77%). Further, low-income parents and parents of color are less likely to even have the option of full-time in-person learning: 6% of low-income parents report that their child’s school is offering in-person full-time lessons, while higher income parents report triple the access at 19%. Parents of color have a similar lack of opportunity: only 13% of their schools offer in-person full-time lesson whereas for white families it is 18%.
  • Parents are concerned about their family’s health. Across the board, their child contracting the virus (83% concerning) and another family member contracting the virus (84%) are concerning to parents in the state. Parents of color (61%), especially Black parents* (66%), who have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic, are much more likely to say they are very concerned with their child contracting the virus, as are low-income parents (65%). Their child contracting the virus is less concerning to white (53%) and higher-income parents (55%). Additionally, when it comes to family members contracting the virus, Black (62% very concerned) and Latinx parents (57%) report being very concerned at a slightly higher rate than white and parents overall (55%, respectively).
  • Ensuring their child’s overall well-being is particularly concerning for low-income families. Six in ten (62%) parents say they are very concerned with ensuring that their child feels safe and emotionally at ease during this time. This is more of a concern for Black parents (65% very concerning), low-income parents (67%) more so than higher-income parents (59%), and for families located in the Central Valley (72%).

Parents want more in-person and real-time learning for their child. Just 41% of parents report that their child’s school has an in-person learning option, and that figure is even lower among parents of color (37%) and low-income parents (29%). Additionally, more than half (51%) of parents say they would like more in-person learning for their child than what is currently planned and 55% of parents want more real-time instruction for their child – especially as less than a third of parents (31%) report that their child receives four or more hours of real-time instruction during the school day. This is most true for parents in the North of the state (56% more in-person, 59% more real-time) who would like an increase in access to both learning methods for their child.

Parents want regular access to their child’s teachers and information on how their child is academically progressing. We tested an extensive list of things schools could do to help support parents and students and found that although parents are receptive to all proposed options, 94% of parents cite that regular access to their child’s teacher would be the most helpful. However, only 56% of parents say that this is something offered at their child’s school and it is significantly less among Black parents (46%). Additionally, parents feel that they are lacking information on how their child is progressing throughout the school year. Sixty-seven percent of parents would like valuable information from state tests to provide details about whether their child is meeting grade-level academic expectations – which is particularly important among Latinx families (69%) and families in the Greater Los Angeles Area (72%). As shown in the word clouds and the table below, parents emphasize access to their child’s teacher, additional learning opportunities for their child as well as resolving difficulties with remote instruction as top priorities.

Wealthy families are more likely to be supplementing their child’s education through sources outside public school options. Parents with household incomes exceeding $50k a year are more likely to report that they are supplementing their child’s education through sources outside of the traditional public-school options. Many of these options have gained traction among parents, especially relying on online tools to help teach their child (27% doing this). Higher income parents are more likely to be participating (28% doing this) than lower-income families (25%) and are more likely to be very concerned about ensuring their child is on track to go to college or get a job that pays well after graduation (63% very concerned) compared to lower income (56%).

Key Areas of Need Moving Forward

Moving forward, parents across the state shared solutions to address the challenges they face:

  1. Increase access to teachers. Ninety-four percent of parents reported regular access to their child’s teacher would be the most helpful thing schools could do to help parents and students, including live online lessons or phone/video calls. Over half of parents (55%) would like more real-time instruction for their students.
  2. Prioritize digital equity and close technological barriers. A lack of reliable internet access is a top concern, particularly for parents with lower incomes (58%) and Latinx parents (52%). In addition to providing internet access, 92% of parents of color would like their schools to lend mobile technology devices like iPads or laptops to each child in the family.  Eighty-eight percent (88%) of parents of color said that providing free internet access would be helpful.  School leaders and policymakers can utilize this digital divide tool to assess the digital divide in their regions.
  3. Provide access to academic resources or tutors. Ninety percent of parents said having access to these additional resources would be helpful (93% for Black parents). Schools can partner with community-based organizations to provide resources and distance learning support.
  4. Ensure communication with families is accessible and frequent. Ninety-three percent (94% for parents of color) of parents said it would be helpful if schools stayed in regular contact with families to ensure students and parents remain connected to the school community. Only forty-eight percent of parents said they had regular contact with school personnel to ensure connectedness.
  5. Address antiracism and racist practices. While 56% of parents overall are satisfied with their schools’ approach to addressing and teaching about racism as part of the curriculum, only 52% of parents of color are satisfied. Schools can implement anti-racist instructional practices through resources such as A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction, a toolkit for supporting equitable access to math standards for English Language Learners, Black, and Latinx students.
  6. Invest in school funding. Parents support action from state and federal governments to support students. Seventy-seven percent of California parents support Proposition 15, legislation that would increase funding for K-12 public schools and community colleges through reforming commercial and industrial property taxes. Over two-thirds (69%) of parents strongly support the federal government investing more public funds to help schools during the pandemic.
  7. Recruit and retain teachers of color through Prop 16. Sixty-six of all parents support Proposition 16, which could end California’s ban on affirmative action. If Proposition 16 passes, it’ll allow teachers to intentionally hire and retain teachers of color. Seventy-five percent of parents say it’s important for their child’s school to hire and retain educators of color.

About this poll:

Global Strategy Group partnered with The Education Trust–West to conduct an online (desktop and mobile) survey among 800 parents of children in California public schools from October 1st – 7th, 2020.

The survey had a confidence interval of +/-3.4%. All interviews were conducted via web-based panel. Care has been taken to ensure the geographic and demographic divisions of public-school parents are properly represented.

People of Color: For the purposes of this research, “parents of color” indicates parents who do not self-identify as white or identify as white but also identify as Hispanic or Spanish-speaking American.

For more education equity-centered resources and responses, click here.


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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.