Tennessee parents are keenly feeling the disruptions to K-12 education from COVID-19. Last month, SCORE polled parents across Tennessee to get a sense of how the 2020-21 school year is going for students and their families. While parents in this poll expressed more optimism than parents in a similar poll in August, the new findings reveal parents have increasing concerns about the quality of remote learning and student learning loss.

During the pandemic, SCORE has commissioned three polls of parents with children in K-12 public schools to elevate their views and inform decision-making at the state and district levels. The parent polls, as well as research, have been cited in SCORE’s support for prioritizing learning and safety as schools reopen; for encouraging in-person learning for young students, students with disabilities, and English learners; and for conducting statewide assessment in 2020-21 and transparently reporting results.

Parent views have understandably shifted in this fast-moving public health crisis. In April nearly every parent supported the statewide school shutdown, while in October a strong majority of parents supported Governor Lee’s call for schools to offer at least some in-person schooling.

Parent attitudes toward the quality of virtual classes have reversed since August. Now almost two-thirds of parents (65 percent) say remote online learning is worse for their children, while in August a minority of parents (41 percent) said that.

In the latest poll, a large majority of parents (82 percent) said they had a choice about their child’s learning model this year. Full-time in-person learning was chosen by 44 percent, while all-remote learning was selected by 25 percent and a hybrid of in-person and remote learning was chosen by 13 percent of parents across the state.

Despite the many changes in the school environment this year because of the pandemic, a high percentage of parents (79 percent) say the school year is going well. A closer look at the survey findings, however, uncovers some differences, especially among parents whose children are learning remotely all or part of the time. While 92 percent of parents with children learning in person say the school year is going well, only about 70 percent of parents of children in hybrid or all-remote learning say the same. While over 90 percent of parents with children in full-time in-person or remote say they are satisfied with their choice, barely half (53 percent) of parents who chose hybrid are satisfied.

Some of that lower satisfaction may be related to findings from two other poll questions. A majority of the parents who chose remote or hybrid learning (57 percent) say their children have encountered technical problems with online learning. A large majority of high school parents (79 percent) reported technical issues. Slightly more than a quarter of hybrid and remote learning parents (27 percent) said the platforms their children were offered were not adequate and useful. Parents of students in K-2 were more likely to call the platform inadequate (44 percent).

More than half of all parents (53 percent) say they are concerned about their child’s academic progress this year. Academic progress was a worry for strong majorities of parents of color (61 percent), parents of hybrid learners (82 percent) and parents of middle-schoolers (58 percent). And more than 80 percent of parents said they were concerned that other children in Tennessee might be encountering academic, social, or developmental issues this year.

The survey highlights that parents are paying close attention to how their students are doing during this most unusual of school years. They are worried about online learning and not yet satisfied with the hybrid model. Parents continue to want choices about how their children are educated during the pandemic, and they understandably expect whatever learning model they choose to be high quality. These insights can help educators as they pursue continual improvement and weigh what school should look like for the rest of 2020-21.

Methodology: The SCORE survey interviewed 300 Tennessee parents of school-age children with a sample that reflects parent demographics of the state. (Why Sampling Works, AAPOR, 2007). The poll was conducted by telephone October 8-11 by Public Opinion Strategies and has a margin of error of ± 5.66 points.