Editorial | Poll of BPS parents gives Skipper a tool

A comprehensive survey of Boston Public School parents released last week shows that while most are at least “somewhat” satisfied by the school system, they are worried about specific flaws that have emerged as consistent issues over the last few months. The polling data – collected in five waves starting in August by the well-respected MassInc Polling Group with backing from the Shah Family Foundation – should be a useful tool for BPS administrators, most notably the new superintendent, Mary Skipper.

The survey, which included 850 parents with at least one child in the system right now, indicates that many of the most pressing problems within the school district are “operational,” according to the polling group’s analysis.

In a summary of the report prepared by MassInc Polling’s Steve Koczela, he writes: “Looking just over the last week, only 31 percent of parents whose children ride the bus to school say the buses have been ‘always on time,’ while 24 percent report that half or less were on time. Hiring enough teachers and keeping them in the classroom has been another major challenge, with 39 percent of parents reporting their children have been taught by a substitute at least a few times a month (10 percent said every day).”

Even with all of those logistical stresses, roughly one-third of those surveyed said they are “very satisfied” with the district. In total, an impressive 79 percent say they are at least “somewhat satisfied”— a remarkable approval rate for a major urban school district.

There are some indicators that should worry administrators, however:

• About one-quarter (24 percent) of parents say their child has “fallen behind” academically, and of those, more than half (57 percent) “think the schools should be doing more to help students catch up.”

• The report shows that a large share of Black parents account for the lowest level of satisfaction, “with 19% calling themselves ‘very satisfied.’”

• The degree to which parents feel they are unable to exert control and give feedback about their child’s education should prompt some reform within the district. This is not a new phenomenon in Boston, according to the pollsters, who’ve been tracking engagement since 2021. In this report, 82 percent of parents say they want “to be very engaged.” But, under half of those surveyed – 46 percent – say they feel empowered to engage with the district. A smaller number – 28 percent – “strongly agree” that their opinions and feedback matters to school leaders.

• Perhaps the most troubling revelation is the number of parents who are “very concerned” about their child’s emotional and physical safety while they’re at school. According to the poll results, 44 percent of parents say they are “very concerned” about physical safety, while 42 percent are worried about their child’s emotional well-being. More than two-thirds – 69 percent – say they are at least “somewhat concerned.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, and there’s also plenty for the district to be proud of. In the right hands, this survey can help make the new Skipper administration even more effective going into a new year.
– Bill Forry

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