By Chris Hoenig
Race, income and location play a significant role in determining a parent’s confidence in his or her child’s education, a new Associated PressNORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll says.
While Black and Latino parents and low-income and urban families have more worries about public education than affluent, white, suburban families, they are also more likely to see improvements in their schools. More than 70 percent of Black and Latino parents say that their children are receiving a better education than they did as kids, compared with just 56 percent of white parents.
The belief in a better education is enough for families from underrepresented groups to believe more strongly in the idea of publicly funded universal preschool. Latinos (90 percent), Blacks (88 percent), urban (86 percent) and low-income (82 percent) families are all more likely to support that type of program than any others in their demographic groups. Publicly funded preschool has the support of 70 percent of white parents, 71 percent of suburban families and 71 percent of households making more than $100,000.
Just over 40 percent of parents say they have “a great deal” or “a lot” of influence over their child’s education. That percentage is even higher among Latino (54 percent) and Black (50 percent) families, while only 34 percent of white parents felt they had that much control. Regardless of race, the feeling of influence decreases as students get older, peaking in elementary school (48 percent) before dropping when a child enters middle school (33 percent).
The concerns parents have for their children’s education vary greatly. When presented with a list of problems facing students at school, families with a household income under $50,000 were more likely to rate the issues as “very” or “extremely” serious than those with an income over $100,000. Low-income parents and those with less than a high-school education themselves chose the low expectations placed on students most often as a very or extremely serious problem, while inequality in funding was the chief concern for those with more money and a college degree. White and Black parents both also selected funding inequality most often, while Latino families mostly cited getting and keeping good teachers.
Inadequacies in parental involvement and student discipline, low quality of instruction by teachers, bullying and low test scores were also cited often. The condition of school buildings was the least concern, cited by only 20 percent of all parents surveyed.
Latino (85 percent) and Black (82 percent) parents also place a greater emphasis on standardized-test scores and assessing whether or not children are meeting statewide expectations, compared with only 69 percent of white parents. Black and Latino families are also far more likely to say that standardized-test scores reflect the quality of their schools and are an accurate reflection of student performance, with more than 40 percent of Latino and one-third of Black families sharing that opinion. Less than 20 percent of white families agree.
What qualities make a good teacher According to the study, a parent’s opinion of this also depends on race, income, location and education. Seventy-seven percent of parents who are not high-school graduates placed an importance on teachers having an advanced (at least master’s) degree, while only 24 percent of college-educated parents felt that way. The same wide disparities can be seen when asked about having a lot of experience teaching (80 percent vs. 35 percent), sharing the parents’ values (75 percent vs. 23 percent) and, to a lesser degree, having a good reputation among parents (87 percent vs. 62 percent) and having a college degree in the subject or grade level they teach (89 percent vs. 68 percent).
For Blacks and Latinos, a teacher’s education is the most important. Ninety percent of Latinos and 85 percent of Blacks put an emphasis on teachers having a college degree in the subject or grade level they teach, while only 71 percent of whites say the same. A greater disparity is seen when it comes to having an advanced degree, which is important to 77 percent of Latino and 51 percent of Black parents, but only to 22 percent of white parents.
When it comes to paying teachers, Latinos and low-income parents place the highest importance on a balanced approach that takes classroom observations, advanced degrees, teaching experience, statewide test scores and input from parents into consideration. Race, income, location and education don’t impact parents’ beliefs that teachers are underpaid, however. Most parents surveyed underestimated the average teacher’s salaryguessing an average of $43,000, compared with the actual national average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, of $56,643. Two-thirds of all parents say teachers are underpaid, including 40 percent of those who estimated teachers’ salaries over the actual average.