By Adam Clark, NJ.com
More New Jersey parents are worried about their kids falling behind in school than they are about them catching the coronavirus, according to a new poll.
And concerns are especially heightened among low-income parents and parents of color, who have greater worries about both learning loss and their children contracting COVID-19.
The survey of 600 parents conducted in October found 64% were somewhat or very concerned about ensuring their child does not fall behind academically. Meanwhile, 57% said they were similarly concerned about their child’s health during the pandemic.
“Just seeing how concerned families are about making sure kids stay on track academically was important to see and to glean from this,” said Janellen Duffy, a senior advisor at JerseyCAN, an education advocacy group.
The parents were polled between Oct. 7 and Oct. 16, just as the second wave of the pandemic gripped the state. The survey was conducted by Global Strategy Group, in partnership with JerseyCAN and the New Jersey Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group.
The poll found parents are understanding of the challenges schools face during the pandemic: 77% rated their school’s response as excellent or good and 70% approved of Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of the crisis.
On remote learning, 66% of parents said it has improved since the spring, but only 42% said they would rate the experience as “very successful.”
But the survey also reflected disparities in education that have been laid bare by COVID-19.
Parents of color and low-income parents were more likely to have children in remote learning, more likely to be concerned about learning loss and more likely to be concerned about their children’s overall well-being.
They were also more concerned about financial instability and disproportionately felt they needed more support from schools.
The results largely confirm what has been already witnessed on the ground, said Vivian Cox Fraser, president and CEO of the Urban League of Essex County. She called on the state to direct appropriate resources — rather than equal resources — to support students whose communities have been most affected by the pandemic.
“I think that’s an impact that is going to last a lifetime,” Cox Fraser said. “I don’t have confidence we are going to be able to address that as a state, let alone a nation.”
Now is the time to support students most in need, she said.
“One of the concerns I have is I don’t want the whole idea that we are dealing with a pandemic to mean, ‘Oh well, you don’t have to deal with equity issues,” Cox Fraser said.
The poll results come as many of the state’s largest districts in high poverty areas have been closed since March. Schools that opened their doors this fall are also beginning to close, at least temporarily, as the number of coronavirus cases in the state grows.
JerseyCAN and the New Jersey Children’s Foundation called on Murphy’s administration to conduct a statewide analysis of learning loss and begin planning for expanded summer programs for children to avoid repeating grades.
They also recommended a universal internet and device program for low-income families.
“I think everybody is sort of practical about what is possible during a pandemic,” said Kyle Rosenkrans, executive director of the New Jersey Children’s Foundation. “But we really need to be thinking much, much bigger about what it means to recover from all of this.”