Poll finds parents bullish on return to in-person learning 

Optimism mixed with concern about support resources  

AFTER A YEAR AND A HALF of unprecedented disruption of daily life, parents of K-12 students in Massachusetts are very optimistic about what the return to in-person classes will bring, with more than a third saying they expect their child to finish the current school year academically ahead of grade level. 

That is among the notable findings from a new poll, which also found that nearly three-quarters of Massachusetts parents think the return to school has had a positive impact on their child. The positive findings were tempered by many parents saying their child’s school lacks academic support resources or they are unaware of whether those supports exist. 

The results come from a poll of 1,479 parents of Massachusetts K-12 students conducted by the MassINC Polling Group from October 18 to November 2. The survey was sponsored by the Barr Foundation with major input from the Education Trust. 

The poll, the fifth in a series of education surveys conducted by MassINC Polling Group since the onset of the pandemic, reveals a surprisingly positive outlook among parents, despite the steady drumbeat of warnings about learning loss and the mental and emotional toll of the COVID disruption on young people. 

While 20 percent of parents think their child is currently above grade level, 35 percent think their child will be ahead of their grade benchmarks by the end of the school year in June. That figure is even higher than the 28 percent of parents who said their child was above grade level before the pandemic hit. 

“Parents’ expectations for this year are sky-high,” said Maeve Duggan, research director at MassINC Polling Group. “That is a remarkable wish or expectation or hope from parents in terms of how much ground their child is going to gain back this year.”

More than half of parents (54 percent) said the return to school has had a major positive impact on their child and 19 percent said it has had a minor positive impact. 

Of parents who think their child is currently behind grade level, 62 percent think they will either be at grade level or above by the end of the year. 

While parents seem to connect the return to in-person schooling with expectations for big learning gains, the poll results suggest that they view the benefits of school reopenings much more broadly than just providing a better academic learning environment. Of the 73 percent of parents who said the return to school has had a positive impact on their child, the opportunity for social interaction with others was the most frequently cited reason for that impact, with 52 percent identifying socialization with teachers and peers as the main positive factor. It was followed by 18 percent who said the positive impact came most from a more supportive learning environment that included more hands-on help from teachers. 

While the poll reveals largely positive parent views toward school reopenings, more than a third of parents say their child’s school does not have extra academic supports available, such as one-on-one tutoring or small group learning – or they are unsure whether they are available. Meanwhile, only about a third of parents say they have received results of diagnostic tests assessing their child’s academic standing, with most parents relying on grades or conversations with or notes from a teacher for that information. 

“There’s a bit of a disconnect between parents’ expectations and what they want to happen this year and what’s actually taking place,” said Duggan. 

There were differences across school types in parent perceptions of the availability of resources, with parents of children in district public schools less likely to say things like smaller class sizes or one-on-one tutoring were available than parents of children in charter, private, or Catholic schools. 

Parents who think their child is behind grade level were also less likely to say these academic supports were available, suggesting the students who might need such resources the most may be the least likely to be receiving them. 

Concern with their child’s mental and emotional health remains high among parents, but has fallen from earlier points in the pandemic. Compared with findings from the parent poll in February, the share of parents who say they give equal weight to academic and mental health concerns has remained steady (42 percent in February and 46 percent now). But of those parents who said one of the two areas was of greater concern, the share saying academic concerns take priority has jumped from 19 percent to 33 percent, while those citing mental health concerns has fallen from 34 percent to 16 percent. 

Most parents had little knowledge about plans their child’s school might have for using federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. When asked how they thought the money should be spent, more than half of parents said tutoring or other extra academic supports should be the priority.

Of parents with vaccine-eligible children, about three-quarters have had at least one child vaccinated, and more than half say all of their eligible children have received the COVID vaccine. 

The poll was completed just as 5-11 year old children become eligible to be vaccinated. When asked whether they intend to have any currently ineligible children vaccinated once they are eligible, 65 percent of parents said yes. 

There were clear demographic and geographic differences. Asian parents were the most likely to say they’d have children vaccinated (79 percent), while Black parents were the least likely (51 percent). Latino (68 percent) and white (64 percent) parents fell in between. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Receptivity to childhood vaccinations was strongly tied to parental education level, with 55 percent of those with a high school degree or less saying they’d vaccinate their children compared with 81 percent of those with an advanced degree. When divided by regions, 80 percent of parents in Boston and its inner suburbs said they would vaccinate their children once they become eligible, compared to 64 percent of parents in outer Boston suburbs, 63 percent of those in Central and Western Massachusetts, and just 44 percent of those in Southeastern Mass.