Parents and teachers agree: The resources available on the internet to help students with their homework generally are good, according to a survey commissioned by the Associated Press (AP) and America Online (AOL). But a much larger percentage of teachers than parents say they are more knowledgeable than the children under their care when it comes to the kinds of educational resources available on the web–suggesting schools could do a better job helping parents find high-quality homework help online.
And that’s important, given the percentage of parents responding to the survey who said their children turn to them for help with homework (86 percent). When asked where their children go for homework help, parents cited the internet (25 percent) as their No. 3 response, behind parents and teachers (36 percent) and ahead of friends (23 percent) and siblings (22 percent).
The AP-AOL Learning Services Poll measured the attitudes of parents and teachers on a variety of educational issues and found the two groups have some sharply different views about what goes on in school.
One thing they both agree on is how useful the internet can be as a source for homework help. Eighty-two percent of parents, and 81 percent of teachers, rated the resources available online to help students with their homework as either good or very good.
But the two groups differed in their assessment of their own internet skills, compared with the skills of the children under their care. Seventy-three percent of teachers said they know more than their students about the learning tools available on the internet. On this topic, 57 of parents said they know more than their kids–and only 21 percent said they use the internet at least “somewhat often” to help their children with homework.
From discipline to standardized tests to the quality of high schools, parents and teachers disagree on other basic aspects of education, too, the poll found. They come together, though, on the need to hire and keep good teachers.
Parents and teachers literally see children differently. The setting at home is often not at all like the one at school, where kids hang out in groups and social pressures climb.
In the poll, for example, less than half of parents say student discipline is a serious concern at school. Teachers, however, scoff at that–two in three say children’s misbehavior is a major problem.
During her 14 years of teaching, Carol-Sue Nix says she has watched discipline problems trickle down from the fifth grade to pre-kindergarten. A parent-teacher conference usually follows.
“Some parents will work with us. If you talk to them, you see a change in the child,” said Nix, who teaches second grade in Tuscaloosa, Ala. And the rest of the parents? “They say, ‘We’ll deal with it,'” Nix laments, “and nothing changes.”
The survey also found: 71 percent of teachers say class work and homework are the best measures of academic success; 63 percent of parents say the same. A minority of both groups favored test scores.
79 percent of teachers say high schools do a good job in preparing students for college. A smaller but still strong majority of parents–67 percent–agree.
On testing, the poll found teachers are much more likely than parents to say standardized exams get too much emphasis. Yet most parents and teachers agree testing has weakened the ability of educators to give individual attention to students.
Dottie Hungerford is one of those parents.
“I don’t see where the testing is going to come in handy for 90 percent of students down the line,” said Hungerford, a truck loader from Syracuse, N.Y. “For science-minded kids taking English tests, I don’t think they care where the period goes when you are up in space.”
Speaking of English, teachers cite it as the one subject students should study more in school. Parents disagree, but not by much. They put English second, behind math.
What troubles Jason Cleveland, a 34-year-old teacher in East Troy, Wis., are the students who show no interest in learning. “How do you motivate somebody like that?” Cleveland said. “They are kids who, for whatever reasons, don’t see a connection for themselves.”
This is where things can get sticky, as parenting and teaching overlap.
In the poll, 43 percent of parents say low expectations of students is a serious problem; 54 percent of teachers say the same, including almost two in three teachers in high school.
So who sets the expectations?
Parents look to teachers to challenge and reward their kids. Teachers look to parents to instill manners, respect, and motivation. Sounds like a natural partnership. Not always.
“I hear these parents saying, ‘Well, my children aren’t doing very well, so you must not be a very good teacher,'” said Mike Randall, 48, who teaches abstinence-based health courses in Montgomery County, Ind. “Wrong. Sorry. It’s more like, ‘If your child would follow the curriculum, open the book, and apply himself, you would see how good this could all be.'”
In Columbus, Ga., custodian Billy Hicks still thinks about the teacher who didn’t get along with his 16-year-old son. “The teacher is there to teach and help the child,” he said, “not show animosity toward an individual student.”
Even grading can be grating.
Nearly half (46 percent) of teachers say a parent or student has asked them to change a grade even if it wasn’t deserved. It happened about eight years ago to Steven Weisman, who teaches social studies in the suburbs of Chicago.
He sent a note home about one boy’s sagging grades. When the student eventually failed, the parents asked Weisman to change the grade. Turns out the boy had intercepted the warning sent home, which got him in double trouble. Now Weisman makes parents sign a receipt.
Educators can take heart in knowing that parents do, ultimately, appreciate the teacher’s value.
The poll asked about overcrowding, discipline, low expectations of students, violence and gangs, poor building conditions, and availability of sports facilities. Yet the problem that ranked highest for parents and teachers alike was getting and keeping good teachers.
The AP-AOL Learning Services Poll of 1,085 parents and 810 teachers of children in kindergarten through 12th grade was conducted online Jan. 13-23 by Knowledge Networks after respondents initially were contacted by using traditional telephone polling. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for parents, 3.5 points for teachers.