Essential Educators: Teacher and Parent Views on COVID-19

January 27, 2021

After a challenging fall semester, a national survey from Public Agenda finds that K-12 teachers and parents are largely on the same page regarding education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just over half of both teachers and parents feel that their communities value teachers more now than before the pandemic. While only one-third of parents think that they can fill teachers’ roles, most parents and teachers think in-person teaching during the pandemic is risky. Most parents and teachers also think teachers themselves should have a voice in deciding whether to hold in-person classes. However, both parents and teachers feel torn over whether in-person classes are worth the risks.

As COVID-19 vaccination efforts continue to roll out, somewhat more teachers than parents favor requiring both teachers and students to be vaccinated in order to hold in-person classes. Somewhat more teachers than parents also favor suspending standardized testing during the pandemic. However, both teachers and parents feel strongly that schools must provide teachers with the resources to effectively teach online and to support themselves and their students socially and emotionally.

Finding 1: Most teachers and parents think teaching in person during the pandemic is risky and that teachers themselves should decide whether to hold in-person classes.

Finding 2: Both teachers and parents feel torn over whether in-person classes are worth the risks.

Finding 3: Somewhat more teachers than parents think that students and teachers should be required to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to hold in-person classes.

Finding 4: Teachers and parents feel strongly that schools must help teachers support students during the pandemic. Somewhat more teachers than parents favor suspending standardized testing.

Finding 5: Teachers want social and emotional support from their schools as well as help with teaching online. Parents recognize teachers’ need for support.

Finding 6: Most teachers and parents think that communities value teachers more now than before the pandemic, but that the pandemic will make recruiting new teachers to the profession more difficult.

These are findings from a nationally representative survey of 3,130 adult Americans 18 years and older conducted by Public Agenda. The survey was fielded November 18 to December 1, 2020 in English and Spanish, by telephone and online. NORC at the University of Chicago fielded the survey. The sample includes 2,684 respondents who were randomly sampled from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, of whom 256 were K-12 public school teachers, including charter school teachers. Another 446 K-12 public school teachers, including charter school teachers, were sampled from Lucid, a non-probability opt-in panel. Private school teachers were excluded from the sample. The general public sample was demographically weighted to the 2020 Current Population Survey and the teacher sample was weighted to the 2017-18 National Teacher and Principal Survey. The margin of error for the total sample is +/-2.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval. For the teachers sample, the margin of error is +/-5.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval. For parents, the margin of error for parents is +/-5.1 with a design effect of 1.65.

For a complete methodology and for the survey topline with full question wording, please go to https://www.publicagenda.org/reports/teacher-narratives-1/ or email research@publicagenda.org.

Support for this research was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundations.

New York, NY (January 28, 2021)—Public Agenda, a non-partisan research and public engagement organization based in New York City, announces the release of “Essential Educators: Teacher and Parent Views on COVID-19.” The new research report finds teachers and parents largely in agreement on crucial issues related to education and COVID-19 at a moment when in-school learning and vaccinations are top of mind for the American population. The research report was made possible with the support of the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.

In the survey research, most teachers and parents think teaching in-person during the pandemic is risky and that teachers themselves should decide whether to hold in-person classes. Seventy-nine percent of teachers think that they should decide whether or not to hold in-person classes, while sixty-six percent of parents agree that teachers should decide. 

Both parents and teachers feel conflicted about whether in-person learning is worth the risk. About half of teachers and half of parents say that despite the risk of COVID-19, teachers should hold in-person classes since that is the best way for students to learn—while about half of teachers and half of parents either disagree or are unsure.

It is also clear from the findings that both teachers and parents see and feel firsthand the deeply challenging times in which teachers are working and agree that extra support is needed. Eighty-three percent of teachers and seventy-six percent of parents believe that schools should provide teachers with the resources they need to help students who have fallen behind academically due to COVID-19. Additionally, eighty-three percent of teachers and seventy-two percent of parents think that teachers should have the resources they need to help students who are struggling socially and emotionally because of COVID-19. 

“We are far too familiar with the incredible toll the pandemic has taken on our communities and the lives of children and teachers,” said David Schleifer, Director of Research at Public Agenda. “It’s been a long, challenging year, not without controversy, so it is reassuring to hear that teachers and parents largely agree on what schools can do to support teachers during the pandemic.”

Regarding vaccinations, somewhat more teachers than parents favor requiring both teachers and students to be vaccinated in order to hold in-person classes. Fifty-eight percent of teachers and forty-four percent of parents feel that vaccinations should be required in order to hold in-person classes. More broadly, fifty-five percent of Americans feel that vaccination should be required of teachers and students for in-person classes.

“Essential Educators: Teacher and Parent Views on COVID-19” is the first part of a research project that explores narratives around teachers and teaching in the U.S. The second part of the research, which will be released in spring 2021, analyzes how teachers have been portrayed in the media over a ten-year span from 2009-2018.  It also includes survey research on how teachers and parents view media coverage of teachers. 

About Public Agenda

Public Agenda is a nonpartisan research and public engagement organization dedicated to a healthy, just and effective democracy. We support informed citizens, engaged communities and responsive public institutions. We elevate diverse voices, build common ground and foster progress on issues of concern to the American public. These include K-12 education, higher education, health care, economic opportunity and democracy reform. Find Public Agenda online at PublicAgenda.org, and on social media at FB@publicagenda/Twitter@publicagenda/Instagram@publicagenda_.