American parents identify information about education and schools — their local schools, in particular — as their top news need, and that need has only grown during the pandemic. Brand-new studies conducted in the spring of 2020 and August of 2021 show that interest in news about schools increased substantially over the period.
Parents of color, in particular, say that information about schools is a vital need. A report out Wednesday from Calvin University’s Center for Social Research notes that Black parents prioritize education news, yet still feel increasingly uninformed about what’s going on in their children’s schools.
Black parents were more likely than Hispanic or white parents to say they follow news on “many” school-related issues — but still, by 2021, they felt less informed on about what was going on in their local schools in 2021 than they did in 2020. “This finding is especially striking given that white parents are less likely than other groups to seek news and information about education and suggests that other factors may be at play,” the report’s authors note.
And a significant minority of parents surveyed — 33% — said that information about “how school systems will continue to provide for their children’s nutritional needs” was a top priority. This item became more important as the pandemic progressed. In 2020, just 26% of respondents ranked “How to ensure my child gets meals” as a top priority. By 2021, that figure was 33%.
“The racial and ethnic gap on this matter is striking,” the report’s authors note. “By 2021, twice as many Black parents (57%) and Hispanic parents (48%) as white parents (26%) identified [school meals] as a ‘very important’ education topic to follow.”
And while polarizing topics like masks in schools have often dominated national education coverage, the parents surveyed in the report didn’t consider them top priorities. Rather, they were most interested in information about “How to keep my child learning” during a pandemic (74%).
There is a lot going on in this study. So I spoke with Jesse Holcomb, its lead author and assistant professor of journalism and communication at Calvin University, about some of its findings. (Coauthors are Taylor Hartson, Kim Yejae, and Laura Luchies.)
Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, is below.
Also, I have found a lot of local education coverage to be not very helpful or useful with the stuff I actually need or want to know about. Others have noticed something similar. If parents of color are stuck with less useful information, that’s troubling.
But you’re doing a follow-up study that looks at local news coverage of education that will be out in a couple weeks, so we’ll leave that for now and maybe circle back later.
But okay, so! There was something really striking about this survey. It was troubling because it suggests kids might not be getting enough to eat. You found that parents really needed more information about meals in schools.