Poll: Michigan parents want plan to address learning loss

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A new poll finds that 85% of Michigan parents want state leaders to create a plan to address learning loss stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure all students catch up to current grade level.

The poll, conducted by New York-based Global Strategy Group and released Thursday by the education advocacy group Education Trust-Midwest, found nearly half of Michigan parents say the quality of teaching and instruction their children receive is worse amid the crisis and 83% said state leaders should provide safe, free and voluntary in-person summer school for students who need to catch up.

The cafeteria has been turned into a classroom with desks spaced apart at De La Salle Collegiate High School in Warren, Mich. on Dec. 17, 2020. When school was open, the students did not eat in the cafeteria, but only pick up food and take it back to their home rooms to eat.  The school has invested in thermal cameras and had several coronavirus protocols while the school was open this fall.

Education Trust-Midwest released the poll data as it issued an urgent call to state leaders to invest in and accelerate the educational recovery of Michigan students’ learning.

Amber Arellano, executive director of the nonpartisan outfit, said the poll underscores the critical need to invest in public education and prioritize underserved students, particularly students of color, low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities. 

"We need to prepare and act now to ensure this learning crisis does not further worsen longstanding opportunity and achievement gaps for Michigan’s students,

especially its most underserved children," Arellano said.

"We call upon state leaders to invest in solution-based strategies that both address children’s educational recovery of student learning, as well as the long-standing inequities and opportunity gaps that have plagued the state’s vulnerable students for decades,” she said.

National research suggests that school closures may result in Black students falling behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and low-income students by more than a year. The analysis, by the national consulting firm McKinsey and Company, suggests that existing achievement gaps could grow by 15 to 20%.

The poll found: 

• Nearly half (47%) of all parents polled indicate they have received little or no information from their child's school about whether their child is suffering from learning loss or has fallen behind grade-level expectations as a result of schools being closed due to the pandemic last spring.

• Ninety-one percent of Black parents and parents of color indicate concern about their child falling behind academically because of the pandemic, while 83% of White parents share this concern.

Education Trust-Midwest partnered with Global Strategy Group to conduct an online (desktop and mobile) survey among 400 parents of children in Michigan public schools from Dec. 10-16. The survey had a margin of error of +/-4.9%. All interviews were conducted via web-based panel.

Civil rights leader Alice Thompson, CEO of BFDI Educational Services Inc. and former CEO of Black Family Development Inc., said the unprecedented health crisis has placed into sharp focus decades-long inequities that have created an unacceptable opportunity gap for Michigan’s most underserved students.

"Now is the moment to act with urgency and correct harmful policies and practices to make sure every Michigan student has the opportunity to achieve at high levels,” said Thompson, who also serves as co-chair of the Education Committee of the

Detroit Branch NAACP. 

Heather Eckner, statewide director of education initiatives for the Autism Alliance of Michigan, said the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education across the nation.

"And we know that vulnerable students who are most at-risk of experiencing additional barriers to access and opportunity are likely to be set further behind, worsening an already stark achievement gap,” Eckner said. "Our state and districts must take bold action and develop a specific plan for addressing barriers related to evaluation of students and in providing appropriate services and supports, as required, with a focus on early identification, access to evidence-based, high-quality instruction and equitable programming.”

Education Trust-Midwest's 2021 education report can be found here online and is being shared with Michigan's governor, legislative leaders, the Michigan Department of Education and the State Board of Education.