Classroom Technology

Parents Are Open to AI Use in Schools. But They Have a Lot of Questions

By Arianna Prothero — October 20, 2023 5 min read
Close Up of Black Father With Mobile Phone And his Son Using a Digital Tablet Reading With Headphones At Home
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A flurry of surveys since ChatGPT was released nearly a year ago have highlighted how educators and students view—and use—artificial intelligence tools. But there’s one major stakeholder who has been mostly left out of the conversation: parents.

A new poll from the National Parents Union seeks to address that gap and shed light on parents’ thoughts, concerns, and hopes regarding AI and their children’s education. Overall, the findings show that parents are uncertain but also open to the possibilities of how AI can advance their children’s learning.

Four in 10 parents say they know a “little general information” about artificial intelligence, and about six in 10 say they have heard little to nothing about how AI can be applied in education.

Even so, the majority of parents—more than two thirds—believe that the potential benefits of AI to K-12 education either outweigh or are equal to the potential drawbacks. Only 16 percent of parents feel that the downsides outstrip any potential benefits.

But parents’ current openness to AI can’t be taken for granted, said Keri Rodrigues, the president of the National Parents Union. School and district leaders need to inform parents about how they’re leveraging artificial intelligence in their schools before parents develop misconceptions and fears about the technology.

“I think one of the shocking things is that 62 percent of parents have heard little to nothing about AI. Every other aspect of industry, our economy, our society is talking about this technology,” said Rodrigues. “I am always encouraging our superintendents, state chiefs, principals, our educators directly, you need to be transparent around, ‘here’s how we’re incorporating AI in the classroom,’ so [parents] are not filling that unknown space with stuff we hear on the internet.”

ChatGPT, which can write essays in seconds and even pass a standardized bar exam, gave the general population easy access to generative artificial intelligence tools and spurred a rush to incorporate the technology into education as well as discussions around how these tools might be used or abused.

But AI is not new to K-12 education. Schools have used it in adaptive assessments, translation services, and programs to plan bus routes, to list a few examples.

The National Parent Union survey, which was fielded at the beginning of October, included 1,515 parents of public school students in grades K-12 from across the country.

About half of the parents in the poll said they’re confident their child’s school is well prepared to use AI in their “child’s education” and that by introducing their children to AI, the schools are helping prepare their children for careers in the future that will require AI literacy and skills.

Schools ‘don’t know where to start’

But that leaves 29 percent who say their children’s schools are not preparing their kids and 18 percent who are unsure. Those numbers are concerning, said Pat Yongpradit, the chief academic officer of Code.org and the Lead of TeachAI, a new initiative to support schools in using and teaching about AI.

“My response to that is, ‘yeah, schools, you need to be proactive, you need to be promoting AI literacy, you need to be preparing students for the future,’” he said. “I think it’s not because they don’t want to do it, it’s because they don’t know where to start.”

Yongpradit said schools can start by focusing on teaching AI literacy to students and teachers. Their outreach to families can begin with reassuring parents that the use of AI will comply with existing policies while they work on incorporating guidance around the use of AI in schools into existing school and district policies. TeachAI has a toolkit with resources addressing these challenges, including a sample letter schools can send to parents.

“Help parents understand that we’re all figuring this out together and that uses will change as we learn more about evidence-based practices,” Yongpradit said. “But reassuring parents that you’re on top of this, working on guidance, and working on existing policies—parents will feel confident that schools are being active and not passive.”

What parents see as the benefits of using AI in education

Pascale Small, who lives in Maryland, is one such parent who said she would like more information on how AI is used in her children’s education.

“We have probably been using it without knowing it … when we’re using all these different apps, like I use for my district an app called Clever,” said Small, who has one child in preschool and two more in early elementary school. “Have I explicitly heard my district tell me, ‘we’re using AI, and ChatGPT?’ I haven’t heard them specifically say that. But I wish they would. I would love for my district to show me as a parent how these tools can positively affect pedagogy, student learning and my child’s creativity.”

So, what do parents view as the benefits of AI?

Many see potential in leveraging AI in online tutoring. Fifty-six percent say they see that idea as having the best effect on K-12 education. And 53 percent say they see benefits in AI tools providing initial feedback on students’ homework before they turn it in.

“We think about online tutoring programs, we know that high-impact tutoring is critically important to addressing learning loss we saw during the pandemic and a lot of parents don’t feel like that’s being done fast enough,” said Rodrigues.

Overall, the majority of parents do not feel comfortable with the prospect of teachers using AI to help grade assignments—46 percent viewed that idea favorably. A little more than a third believe that allowing their children to use AI to help write essays would have a positive effect on their learning.

Even so, many parents do see upsides to teachers using AI. Around half of the parents surveyed said they see good potential in educators using AI to customize curriculum and lesson plans to their children’s needs and to analyze student performance data.

In many ways, parents and educators are in the same boat when it comes to grasping the new technology. A survey completed in June of teachers, principals, and district leaders by the EdWeek Research Center found that only 1 in 10 said they know enough about AI to teach about it or use it in their work. An overwhelming majority said they had received no professional development on how to incorporate AI into their work.

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