Parent satisfaction with Boston schools is falling, new poll shows
Decline underscores the challenge facing new superintendent
AFTER A FULL school year back in classrooms for in-person learning, parents of Boston Public Schools students have even less faith in the system than they did a year ago, according to a new poll.
The poll, the fourth in a series of surveys conducted over the last year by the MassINC Polling Group for the Shah Family Foundation, found that the share of parents who said they were “very satisfied” with the Boston schools fell from 41 percent in August 2021 to 29 percent this month. Meanwhile, the share of parents who were somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with schools doubled over the period, from 13 percent to 26 percent.
The jarring results frame the scope of the challenges facing incoming superintendent Mary Skipper, who officially takes the reins next month but has been in regular communication with school leaders in Boston since her appointment in June.
The decline in parent satisfaction comes after the first full year of in-person learning since the pandemic onset.
The district’s leadership instability and the harsh spotlight the state report cast on everything from disarray in Boston’s special education and English language services to chronic problems with bus transportation performance and low student achievement seem like they may have been factors in the poll results.
The biggest falloff in parents who said they were very satisfied occurred between the third poll, conducted just four months ago, in April, and the new survey completed this month. Latino and Asian parents showed the greatest degree of satisfaction with the schools, while Black and white parents showed the least.
Despite the recent state review pointing to particularly serious problems with the district’s performance with special education students and English language learners, parents of those students were somewhat more likely than other parents to say they are very or somewhat satisfied with the system.
The poll asked parents whose interests they think the school district is focused on serving, listing six groups and asking respondents to choose up to two. The share of parents that included students in their two selections fell from 54 percent a year ago to 43 percent in the new poll, while those who said serving the superintendent and district school leaders is a top focus rose from 23 percent to 31 percent. Asian and Latino parents were much more likely than Black or white parents to say students are a focus of the district’s efforts.
Parental educational attainment levels were inversely correlated with overall satisfaction. Among parents with advanced degrees, 62 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with the schools compared with 78 percent of those who did not go beyond high schools. Parents with some college education and those with a college degree had satisfaction levels that fell between those two groups.
In June, state education officials and Boston leaders reached agreement on a detailed improvement plan for the district that sets out clear steps the city must take in special education, services for English learners, and other areas, with deadlines for meeting the goals.
An overwhelming share of parents – 83 percent – say they want to be engaged in their child’s education, but just 45 percent say the district enables that participation.
Skipper, a former Boston school principal who is currently superintendent of the Somerville schools, said she’s encouraged by that wish from parents to be more connected with what goes on the schools. “As the incoming leader of BPS, I am committed to rebuilding confidence and trust among our students and families — and this data provides a helpful baseline for the years ahead,” she said in a statement. “We cannot do this work alone, and I’m grateful that the overwhelming majority of BPS families are raising their hands, asking to be more engaged in our schools. It’s my job to tap into that energy and optimism. As I begin my tenure as superintendent, I am looking forward to working alongside our students, families, educators, and partners across Boston to make our vision for a world-class education system a reality.”
Ross Wilson, the executive director of the Shah Family Foundation, offered a similar perspective. “As BPS begins a new year facing declining enrollment, this data sets a baseline for the incoming superintendent and highlights the important work ahead to restore trust and confidence in our school system,” he said.The poll was based on interviews conducted from July 21 to August 4 with 845 K-12 parents. Black and Latino parents were oversampled to have at least 200 respondents from each group, while Asian parents were oversampled in order to include at least 100 parents.
This story was updated on Monday afternoon to include Mary Skipper’s comments.