Denver parents say kids are learning less in online school, survey finds

While online education has become a necessity of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey found most Denver parents feel their children are learning less when seated in front of a computer versus in the classroom.

The survey of 647 Denver parents with school-age kids found 65% said their students were learning less online. That percentage was higher among parents with kindergarteners (80%) and elementary students (69%), while 60% of those with middle and high schoolers reported their students were learning less than if they were attending classes in-person.

On average, 23% of parents said their kids were learning about the same and 5% said they were learning more, according to the survey.

The survey, conducted by Keating Research, polled parents between Jan. 4 and 10 to gauge their experiences with remote learning, and had a margin of error of 3.9%.

The findings dovetail with another, statewide survey of 650 Colorado parents conducted by advocacy organization Transform Education Now, in which 54% reported they believe their children are falling behind academically during the pandemic.

While Keating’s survey respondents are based in Denver, not all students attend Denver Public Schools. In fact, 17% of parents reported moving their children out of Colorado’s largest public school district this semester, opting instead to homeschool (8%), enroll in a private institution (6%) or transfer to a different district (4%).

Of those who enrolled at a private school, the majority of families made $75,000 per year or more (75%) and about half (49%) were white. Hispanic (11%) and Black (9%) families were more likely to homeschool their students, compared to white families (2%), the survey said.

Still, 64% of parents with children in Denver Public Schools said they are satisfied with the learning options the district is offering. Those with kindergarteners are the most critical, with just 48% satisfied with the district’s offerings, compared to 55% of elementary parents and 62% of secondary school parents.

That doesn’t mean they all feel the instruction is adequate. Keating reported about half of parents think the district is doing a fair or poor job teaching student during the pandemic versus a good or excellent job. That was true of the wider sample sentiment, too: Half of Denver parents feel that schools are doing a fair (30%) to poor (20%) job educating their child during the pandemic, while the other half feel that schools are doing an excellent (20%) to good (29%) job.

According to the survey, part of that sentiment is due to the number of hours kids receive live instruction from their teachers — an average of four hours per day, respondents said. Parents also most commonly reported their students frequently or occasionally had a hard time understanding lessons, logged in but did not engage, and had to search for outside resources to help them understand a lesson or catch up to the rest of the class.

While Keating’s report is new, the sentiments about online education are not. Since the pandemic shuttered buildings and disrupted the traditional school experience, many parents have pushed for in-person learning, citing the academic and emotional toll on students.

Denver resident Sumeet Garg’s 8-year-old son had about a week of in-person learning in the fall, as DPS’ plans frequently shifted in response to changing COVID-19 conditions in the region. By the end of the semester, the third-grader lacked motivation to do his work and his mood “was going downhill.” He attributes this in part to the extensive hours spent in front of a screen.

“I don’t blame him,” Garg said. “I have to do online reading for work, but after an hour or two I’m ready to be done also.”

In response to the survey results, parent groups including Transform Education Now, African Leadership Group, Stand for Children and FaithBridge are calling on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education to work with educators and families to find creative solutions to preventing learning loss and to measure student progress so parents can understand if their child is ready to advance grade levels.

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