Parental control means families are increasingly insisting that their schools adjust instruction to their children’s needs, interests and schedules, and not the other way around. This is likely directly related to the growing demand among families for new in- and out-of-school learning experiences, says a survey conducted for the Walton Family Foundation and the Stand Together Trust, which provides grants to schools.
More than half of the parents surveyed want to direct their child’s education but only one in four has sufficient knowledge to act, says the report written by Tyton Partners, a financial services firm that tracks the K-12 industry. “Most of these families—while open-minded—report a limited ability to pursue new offerings consistent with their values and needs,” the analysis says. “Many features of student-centric environments are not hallmarks of our K-12 system.”
The parents surveyed said they want their children to receive a well-rounded education even though they prioritize their child’s happiness over any other outcome. “This highlights the need for K-12 stakeholders to integrate experiences that can spark passion and joy,” the report says. “Parents view ‘school’ as the channel for academics and ‘out-of-school’ as a way to pursue personal growth.”
These are among the key reasons parents are taking advantage of school choice programs and gravitating toward homeschooling and other alternatives. But there are gaps: Though parents from all demographic groups share the desire for their children to enjoy their educational experiences, students from underserved backgrounds are nearly two times less likely to participate in learning outside of school than their peers, the report says.
Solving these inequities will require collaboration between school districts, policymakers, community organizations and others to expand access to more “student-centric educational options” and develop new programs. Families looking to participate in a fuller range of K-12 experiences face three barriers:
- Information is scarce but valuable. Parents want insight into what their children need to thrive and the programs that are available to meet these needs. Unfortunately, providing families with clear and easily accessible information is critical to catalyzing parents’ broad aspirations into action.
- “Choice” is a privilege. Many parents—especially those who are less affluent—make educational decisions based on cost, convenience, safety and other “core needs.” Communities that can help families meet these needs will also give parents more opportunities to “pursue educational experiences in line with their values.” Policymakers should therefore work to make out-of-school learning more affordable and convenient and create a more equitable and student-centric K-12 ecosystem.
- Supply is limited. More than 80% of out-of-the-school and alternative education providers surveyed said their programs are at or exceeding capacity. Increasing funding across the K-12 system would allow these providers to scale their operations.