Education

“Just not cutting it”: 83% of Calif. public school parents say Zoom stunted kids’ learning

An overwhelming majority of California adults and public school parents say that pandemic-led school closures have led the state’s children to greatly fall behind academically, a new survey says.

The Public Policy Institute of California reported that 83 percent of public school parents think their children’s education has been compromised in the past year – 60 percent said their children have fallen behind by “a lot” while the other 23 percent reported in at “a little.” 

The total figure for all California adults surveyed by the think tank rose to 86 percent who felt kids fell behind academically.

“Californians overwhelmingly believe that children have fallen behind academically during the pandemic and that students in lower-income areas and English language learners have been most at risk,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. 

Marcelino Valdez, Jr., a Fresno Unified School District parent, has seen the hardships of the last year and the survey results within his own family. 

“I can absolutely tell you that’s true. My 16-year-old sophomore has never had anything below a C, and last semester he got a D in one class and he had to make up some of the work,” Valdez told The Sun. “The school was flexible in allowing him to do some make up work, retest on one of them to bring it to a C, but my kid’s an honor roll kid and he’s struggling. This remote learning is just not cutting it.” 

Valdez has been an outspoken advocate for Fresno Unified

to fully reopen and has organized a group called Parents for Reopening Fresno Unified, which is backed by around 700 parents. 

The group has sponsored billboards around town and has participated in school board meetings urging the district to reopen further. 

Valdez said there is a group of minority parents in the community who are afraid to speak up about their desire for the schools to reopen fully due to a fear of retaliation. 

“This group of 700, we feel that it’s our responsibility to speak up for those that are afraid to speak up,” Valdez said. 

Along with his high school sophomore, Valdez has two other children in Fresno Unified schools, including a first-grader who is struggling. 

His children are on campus two days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

The PPIC survey also revealed that two-thirds of public school parents are concerned that schools will not be fully reopened – 5 days a week – by the fall. 

While the survey found that most parents approve of how their respective school districts have handled the pandemic, a growing number are interested in private schools. 

In 2019, 35 percent of parents said they would send their youngest child to a private school if cost and location were not an issue. That number has risen to 42 percent, according to the PPIC. 

Parents such as Valdez see the teachers’ unions as one of the major roadblock for public schools to reopen. 

Valdez feels that Fresno Unified has been “bowing” to the Fresno Teachers Association and does not expect to be offered a fall schedule greater than four days per week, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. 

“There have been school board members across the country that are saying that parents only want their kids back in school because they want babysitters, and I think that’s a slap in the face to parents,” Valdez said. “We don’t need babysitters. If the schools and the school districts, the teachers unions – if they don’t want to return to school and teach then they should look for a new job.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.