A month after the start of the new school year, three-quarters of parents in Tennessee said school was going well for their child and 69% said their students felt safe attending classes in person, even though many districts have temporarily closed under pressure from the highly contagious delta variant of COVID.
Survey results released Tuesday also show that nearly half of parents in the state fear their students may have fallen behind academically during the pandemic, with concerns even more prevalent among suburban parents and children. parents of high school students.
The poll – commissioned by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also known as SCORE – offered some surprises on parents’ perceptions of the start of the third consecutive school year affected by the pandemic. The survey was conducted from September 1-5 with a representative sample of 500 registered voters and 300 parents of public school students across the state, where most of the students returned to school. school in early August.
About 77% of parents surveyed were positive about how the 2021-2022 school year was going for their children.
At the time, at least 18 of Tennessee’s 147 school systems had closed for up to a week to try to tame the virus, as illness or quarantine sidelined too many teachers to staff classrooms. class adequately. And a third of all COVID cases in Tennessee have been in children up to the age of 18. Additionally, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn had just started granting seven-day waivers to allow some schools to temporarily switch to virtual learning as part of a new COVID response plan.
Since then, Tennessee has reported more new cases of the coronavirus than any other state, relative to its population – an average of 109 per 100,000 people, according to a New York Times Database.
Data released Monday by the state health department, shows the death toll of people under 20 has doubled to 20 since the start of the school year.
And at least 14 public school employees who contracted COVID have died this school year, based on a report on deaths confirmed by Tennessee Lookout, an online news organization. The report notes that it is not known whether an employee was exposed to COVID at school or outside of school.
SCORE officials believe parents feel good about more face-to-face learning than last school year, when districts had the general power to switch to virtual learning to respond to pushes. local viruses. A new state rule requires schools to provide in-person instruction and tap into stored days if they have to close. Even with Tennessee’s COVID numbers, Gov. Bill Lee’s administration has not backed down on that position.
âThe positive feelings expressed by parents about the start of this school year are a testament to the hard but essential work that teachers and school and district leaders across the state have done to support face-to-face teaching under very difficult circumstances. difficult, âsaid David Mansouri, President and CEO of SCORE. said in a statement.
Teresa Wasson, spokesperson for SCORE, added that polls for the past two years show that two-thirds of parents in Tennessee believe distance learning is worse for their students than learning in person.
Beth Brown, president of the Tennessee Education Association, agreed that face-to-face learning is the best and said it’s great for parents to feel positive about the school year. But she also cited a mismatch between what the survey shows and what she hears from educators on the ground who continue to respond to the disturbances.
âPeople need to understand that the pandemic is wreaking havoc among educators in a state where there is already a shortage of teachers,â Brown told Chalkbeat. âTeachers are exhausted, exhausted and struggling mentally and emotionally. “
This year’s survey yielded similar results to last year regarding parents’ concerns about learning delays related to the pandemic. But this is the first pandemic year that Tennessee has benefited from the results of statewide tests, which were released a month before the last survey was conducted. In 2020, testing was canceled across the country due to the virus.
Tennessee scores showed an overall decrease in skills of 5 percentage points since 2019 as part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, also known as TCAP. Scores declined across all subjects and levels, with the largest drops among students who have historically followed their peers and learned longest.
The SCORE survey also looked at education issues unrelated to the pandemic.
Most respondents, including 71% of parents and 65% of voters, believe that Tennessee’s public schools are not receiving enough funding. And even larger percentages of those polled said they would support increased state funding for K-12 education.
The poll also showed strong statewide support for continuing the annual state tests, which have been used in Tennessee since 1988, to find out whether students meet education standards in reading, writing. and mathematics.
Based in Nashville, GOAL is a research and advocacy group founded in 2009 by former US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.
The group’s survey was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and had a margin of error of just over 4% for the sample of registered voters and over 5% for parents in public schools.