The chance to sit among parents, grandparents, and other caregivers and listen is always a great opportunity as a family engagement researcher. Hearing firsthand what families want and need - and the accompanied emotions - provides invaluable insight and a perspective that drives our work and decision-making at Family Engagement Lab.
In our family focus groups we have gleaned countless insights, but most notably, we learned about a common set of parental ‘must-haves’ that come coupled with both a sense of urgency and hopefulness. Parents consistently shared that they want to know three pieces of information from their children’s school or teacher: how their child is doing academically; the key skills their child is supposed to learn; and how they can support their child’s learning. Knowing this, we set out to learn whether our focus group findings were generalizable to a broader group of parents by conducting a national survey. In February 2017, we ran an online survey with a diverse sample of 412 parents of 3- to 18-year-old children. While important to recognize the limitations of our sample size, our research uncovered some interesting findings that we aim to continue exploring:
Much like the parents in our focus groups, the vast majority of our national sample of parents reported that each of the three pieces of information are highly important for them to receive from their child’s school or teacher. In fact, nearly all parents noted that it was ‘very’ or ‘moderately’ important to receive information around how their child is doing academically (97%); the key skills their child is supposed to learn (93%); and how they can support their child’s learning (95%).
We followed up by asking parents whether they are actually getting this information from their child’s teacher or school and here is where some different patterns emerged. A small minority of parents (9%) said that they aren’t getting the information they need about how their child is doing academically. This is likely due to the longstanding systems in place to communicate this type of information to families (e.g., via report cards, parent-teacher conferences). Interestingly, three times as many parents said that they aren’t getting the information they need around the key skills their child should be learning (27%) and how they can support their child’s learning (27%). This speaks to a specific type of information gap - parents want information beyond academic progress and many are not receiving it.
If and when parents didn’t get the information they were seeking from the school or teacher, we found that most parents asked their children (68%). As many parents (and researchers) will attest to, this can introduce a good amount of error into the exchange of information. Additionally, children may not be knowledgeable of the grade-level skills they should be mastering and they are not well-positioned to offer strategies to their parents around enriching at-home learning activities.
Overall, we found that 68% of parents were highly satisfied with the information they are receiving from their child’s teacher or school (having reported that they are ‘moderately’ or ‘very” satisfied). This leaves nearly a third of families who are looking for more, better, or different information. We must support educators in their capacity to provide this information and families in their efforts to receive, and ultimately, act on it. Furthermore, we uncovered a relationship between household income and satisfaction, with higher income associated with higher levels of satisfaction, suggesting that there is additional work to be done to meet the needs of families from lower income backgrounds.
At Family Engagement Lab, we are creating solutions to improve communication between educators and diverse families. Help us shine a spotlight on schools and educators that are doing a great job of listening to parent needs and responding. Share your stories in the comments, or tweet @FamilyELab using #schoolhomelink.
Elisabeth O’Bryon, PhD co-founder and Head of Research Family Engagement Lab