NOEL KING, HOST:
We are a year into the pandemic, a year of school closures. But an NPR/Ipsos poll of parents in the U.S. finds some optimism about academic and social development. More than 4 out of 5 parents would like extra services to help their kids catch up. Just over half are in favor of summer school.
Anya Kamenetz from NPR's education team helped design this poll. Good morning, Anya.
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: What were you polling to find out?
KAMENETZ: We felt like the way that the school reopening debate has sometimes been covered, we're generally hearing only the loudest, most disgruntled voices, or else we're trying to focus on the families who are really vulnerable and being left out. So we wanted to get a more representative national view on how parents are feeling about this school year and also what they'd like to see happen next.
KING: OK. And what'd you find?
KAMENETZ: So obviously, this has not been a seamless school year for most people. Many schools have opened for in-person learning, gone from virtual to hybrid, closed, gone back again. Almost half of parents told us they were, quote, "worried that my child will be behind when the pandemic is over."
KING: When they say falling behind, what do they mean?
KAMENETZ: Well, this was puzzling because when we tried to drill down, large majorities of parents actually judge their kids to be on track or even ahead of schedule in math and science, in reading and writing, in mental health, emotional well-being - even the socialization and communication skills and time management.
KING: OK. So it sounds like they're worried their kids are behind, but they can't actually really say how.
KAMENETZ: Exactly. And also - yeah. And also, parents are giving pretty high marks to their kids' schools. Four out of 5 said, my child's school has handled the pandemic well. And about the same number said their schools had clearly communicated during the year. And that's kind of different from how, you know, sometimes the conflicts over school reopening had been portrayed.
KING: Yeah, 4 out of 5 is telling. What are parents thinking about next school year?
KAMENETZ: You know, most parents expect things to go back to quote-unquote, "normal." Exactly 3 out of 4 of the parents we polled expect their children's schools to open full time in person next fall. And even sooner than that, about half of those attending hybrid and/or remote right now expect schools to open full time in person just as soon as the teachers are all vaccinated. And, you know, President Biden just put a move on that. He recently directed all states to prioritize educators for their shots as soon as this month.
However, when you think about, you know, schools opening five days a week in person, teachers getting vaccinated is not the only concern. Currently, CDC guidelines recommend 6 feet of distance between students, and most schools have only been able to achieve that by having a hybrid or part-time schedule.
KING: So full time still might not happen in the fall in some schools.
KAMENETZ: I mean, that is a big story that we're going to continue to cover. But, you know, we should also point out that there are kids who are thriving with online learning. So Joshua Jessep in Discovery Bay in Northern California told us...
JOSHUA JESSEP: My son actually sits with me here in my office as I work. You can see he's busy over there. And so I'm able to keep a really close track of, you know, daily assignments, make sure he's not goofing off.
KAMENETZ: So with his son as his co-worker, his grades are now straight A's. And, overall, fully 29% of parents said they were either somewhat or very likely to choose remote learning indefinitely.
KING: My eyes just fell out of my head. Almost one-third of parents say we'd like to keep our kids learning at home? That would be massive.
KAMENETZ: Yeah. And many districts are already setting up district-wide virtual learning programs. This is a change that could have ripples far beyond the pandemic.
KING: President Biden's American Rescue Plan has set aside some funds to address learning loss. Did you ask parents what they're looking for in there?
KAMENETZ: Yes, and all of these recovery proposals are very popular. More than 4 in 5 parents want some kind of customized service to help their kids with those catch-up worries that they have.
KING: NPR education correspondent Anya Kamenetz.
KAMENETZ: Thanks, Noel.
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