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Teachers Cite Latchkey Situations as Cause of Learning Distress

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A majority of teachers believe that the main reason their students have learning difficulties is because they are left unsupervised at home after school, a new national poll of teachers and parents has found.

When asked to rank several possible causes of academic distress, teachers cited latchkey situations more frequently than poverty and single-parent families.

Moreover, the problem of after-school isolation was found to be prevalent in both urban and rural parts of the country and to cut across socio-economic lines.

"It is no longer a phenomenon of broken homes [and] lower-income families," said Louis Harris, whose polling firm conducted the survey. ''This has become a front-and-center issue that must be faced by parents and schools alike."

The poll was the fifth survey of teachers sponsored by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company since 1984 and was conducted last May and June by Louis Harris and Associates.

It was the first in the Metropolitan Life series to simultaneously interview parents and teachers on their views about education. And it found concerns among both groups about the number of children left without supervision after school.

Fifty-nine percent of the parents questioned said that parents left children on their own too often; 41 percent said their child was often unsupervised between the end of school and 5:30 p.m.

Leaving children unattended after school was the most cited criticism of parents by teachers. It was also their main focus in attributing blame for learning problems, although such school factors as automatic promotions and impersonal teaching styles were also cited.

"More teachers single out children being left alone after school as the major cause of trouble in school than cite poverty or the existence of single-parent families," Mr. Harris said at a press conference last week.

Many parents, the survey found, would like schools to take a more active role in providing after-school care. Most of those questioned said they would be willing to place their child in a school-organized after-school program. A majority said they would be willing to pay for such programs if school funds were inadequate.

More Cooperation Favored

The survey of 1,000 teachers and 2,000 parents found that both groups feel that more could be done to encourage cooperation between the home and school.

Most parents questioned acknowledged that they had not adequately disciplined their children and had failed to motivate them to learn.

Though the survey results show that both parents and teachers want more parental involvement in school issues, however, conflicts in work schedules make it difficult to arrange common meeting times. "A lot of parents and teachers are passing each other like ships in the night,'' Mr. Harris noted.

The report analyzing the survey results, "The American Teacher2p41987: Strengthening Links Between Home and School," also list these findings:

Parents and teachers favor consulting one another on discipline policy, changes in extracurricular activities, and curricula. But 6 out of 10 teachers feel that they should have final say on grading standards and homework policies.

Urban and single parents are the most likely to want a close relationship with their child's teacher, but parents with college educations and higher income levels are more likely to be in close contact with the school.

Both parents and teachers feel8awkward about initiating contact with one another. More than half of the teachers surveyed said they felt uneasy about approaching a parentto discuss their child's problems. About a fifth of the parents expressed such reluctance.

Rise in Teacher Morale

The survey results also indicate an upswing in teacher morale, however. Only 22 percent of those questioned said they were considering changing careers during the next five years, down from 27 percent in 1985 and 1986.

Forty percent said they were very satisfied with their jobs, and only 14 percent said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied.

The survey also found that:

Slightly more than 60 percent ofboth groups believe that the quality of education has improved since they were in school.

One-fourth of the parents would seriously consider choosing a different school for their child if they had the choice.

Only one-fourth of the teachers and parents polled said they strongly supported using school facilities for preschool day-care programs.

Copies of the report are available by writing to Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher 1987, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. P.O. Box 807, Madison Square Station, New York, N.Y. 10159.

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