Poll Reveals Gulf Between Student, Teacher Expectations

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Student, parents, and teachers hold very different views on many education- related issues, including how important a role each plays in education and their expectations for students' futures, according to the results of a national poll released last week.

The 16th annual "Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher" polled thousands of public school students, teachers, and parents on matters ranging from how children spend their time to civic responsibility.

Its findings should serve as an alert to adults, Carole Kennedy, the principal-in-residence at the Department of Education, said during a press conference held here to release the results Sept. 25. "I think it is time we do a better job of listening to our children," she said.

For More Information

"The Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher" is available online from Metropolitan Life. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

One of the most jarring differences of opinion turned on expectations for students' futures. Of the secondary school students polled, 71 percent said their "main plan" after leaving high school was to attend a four-year college. But only 52 percent of the secondary school parents polled said they planned for their children to go to a four-year college, and only 32 percent of the secondary school teachers cited that as the most likely option for their students.

In fact, almost a third of the teachers said working full time best described their students' future plans; 33 percent chose a two-year college or a technical or vocational school as their students' most likely destination.

The gap between the students' plans and their teachers' expectations signals a greater problem, Hugh B. Price, the president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League, said during the press conference. "It reverberates in the courses and kind of advice students get from teachers," he maintained.

Taking Responsibility

Several students from public high schools here also attended last week's press conference. Milton Boyd, a senior at the District of Columbia's School Without Walls, said that students' high expectations should not be ignored. "We need to make sure we seize that, and don't let that dream dissipate," he said.

The survey—sponsored by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. —was conducted between March and May of this year. It involved 3,961 public school students in grades 7-12; 2,017 parents of public school students in grades K-12; and 1,010 public school teachers of grades 7-12. The surveys were conducted online, over the telephone, and through self-administered questionnaires.

Nearly half the teachers and a third of the parents surveyed said they believed that "improving the quality of education" is the most important issue facing the United States; an additional 16 percent of parents and 9 percent of teachers put school safety at the top of the list. Only 18 percent of the students listed education as the top priority, and another 18 percent chose school safety. School violence was the focus of last year's survey. ("More Teachers and Students Say Violence in Schools Is Declining," June 2, 1999.)

But while many parents and teachers agreed on the importance of education, they disagreed on who is responsible for seeing that students obtain "a good education." Nearly two- thirds of the secondary school parents surveyed said they believed they were most responsible, while teachers divided the responsibility: 30 percent said parents were most responsible; 31 percent said teachers were; and 36 percent said students were. By comparison, more than half the secondary students said they were most responsible for their educations.

While 67 percent of secondary school students polled felt their parents spend "just enough" time with them, only 45 percent of the parents agreed. And just 10 percent of the teachers interviewed believed that parents spend enough time with their children.

Beverly Cole-Henderson, the executive associate director for operations at the Center for Research on Education of Students Placed At-Risk, a research group at Howard University here, said teachers need to do a better job of keeping parents informed about what is happening at school. "Oftentimes, parents only hear from teachers when there is a problem," she said.

Vol. 20, Issue 5, Page 10

Published in Print: October 4, 2000, as Poll Reveals Gulf Between Student, Teacher Expectations
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