Families & the Community

New Campaign Tries to Convince Parents That Their Kids Have Fallen Behind

By Caitlynn Peetz — April 05, 2023 3 min read
Photo of parent and child working on homework.
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In a push to get parents to enroll their children in summer school this year, a group of national education organizations is taking to the streets of six major cities to dispel widespread misconceptions that their children are doing OK in school.

The advertising campaign will target the six cities—Boston, Chicago, Houston, New York City, Sacramento County in California, and Washington, D.C.—with displays of side-by-side data showing the percentage of students proficient in math or English in that city and the percentage of parents who think their child is at or above grade level in that subject.

In Boston, for example, 23 percent of eighth-grade students were proficient in math in 2022, according to state standardized tests. Yet, 92 percent of parents there think their child is at or above grade level in the subject.

The new campaign will juxtapose those data in advertisements on billboards, transit shelters, and other digital screens throughout the cities, and call on parents to enroll their children in local summer school, considered a key tool in combatting pandemic-era learning loss.

After school closures and other COVID-related disruptions swept across the country, students—regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic status—suffered historic blows to their academic achievement, as evidenced by the most recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called The Nation’s Report Card.

There were declines in key subject areas like math and literacy across the board, prompting an urgent call to action for districts to catch students up. The strategies they’ve turned to have usually include tutoring, and have sometimes involved adding time to the school day or days to the school year. Essentially, the more time in the classroom, the better (as long as that time is used well), researchers say.

So, it’s no surprise that districts have funneled millions of dollars into building out more robust summer school programs in recent years.

But a disconnect between parents’ perceptions and the reality of their kids’ academic performance has stunted some schools’ efforts to enroll students in those programs, according to recent research.

A recent survey by Learning Heroes—a nonprofit focused on ensuring parents have accurate information about students’ progress—found that 92 percent of parents believe their children are at grade level and doing fine in the classroom despite evidence that a majority of students are struggling.

So, it’s critical that parents understand the gravity of the situation, and that it’s likely one their family needs to play a role in addressing, the campaign’s organizers say.

And some recent research suggests that if everyone’s on the same page, parents are ready to help. One survey commissioned by Learning Heroes last month found that 89 percent of parents and 88 percent of teachers agreed that working together is a vital part of overcoming the pandemic’s impact on students’ academics.

“While this is an all-hands-on-deck moment in public education, most parents are not aware they need to be in the boat,” Learning Heroes Co-Founder Cindi Williams said in a statement. “Parents are problem solvers, but we can’t expect them to solve a problem they don’t know exists.”

In a working paper released in January, researchers at the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research found that districts struggled last year to implement academic recovery programs at their intended scale and intensity. Districts faced difficulties in getting and keeping students engaged, staffing, scheduling, and getting buy-in from parents and community groups. As a result, they didn’t reach as many students as they needed to, and didn’t provide as many hours of additional tutoring or other interventions as they intended.

The working paper suggested that districts be clear when communicating with parents about how students are doing, whether they are on track for recovery, and what opportunities are available if they aren’t catching up fast enough.

That clarity could bolster buy-in both from students and the community organizations that could assist with staffing or other logistical challenges, the researchers concluded.

The new advertising campaign announced Wednesday, called #GoBeyondGrades, will roll out in English and Spanish, and is expected to reach more than 150 million people, according to the groups sponsoring the effort, which, in addition to Learning Heroes, include the National Summer Learning Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Clear Channel Outdoor, and Univision.

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