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Survey shows parents concerned about APS' ability to talk about race

Wicked Local Metro - 2/3/2021

Feb. 3—A survey of more than 2,000 parents involved with Arlington Public Schools showed a gap in confidence in the ability students to learn among different groups, including students of color and students who do not identify as male or female.

Last fall, Arlington Public Schools worked with Panorama Education to administer a survey asking parents how confident and comfortable they felt with different aspects of social and emotional learning that is taking place in APS.

A notable statistic to come out of the survey was that a large majority of parents do not feel confident that adults working for APS can have honest conversations about racial issues with students, with only 38% of parents expressing confidence in APS professionals.

The survey also showed that 68% of respondents believe that it is important that students talk about important current events regarding race in the classroom; showing that parents value that conversation, but are concerned about the current effectiveness that it will have on students.

According to the data that was presented to the Arlington School Committee on Jan. 28, the survey showed a particular lack of confidence in parents of Black students, with approximately 20% of those parents expressing confidence that APS professionals can have honest conversations about race.

School Committee member Elizabeth Exton said that she would be interested in knowing how comfortable APS teachers are in having those conversations with students.

"I'd be really interested to see the staff responses to that question, and to see if the staff feel like they are supported in having those conversations with students and are they comfortable," Exton said.

In data that broke down favorable and unfavorable responses into different categories, the parents of Black students consistently expressed less approval than the district average. While 49% of all parents expressed a favorable opinion on APS when it came to cultural awareness and action, only 37% of parents of Black students expressed a favorable view. Hispanic or Latino parents (44%) and Asian parents (45%) also expressed a lower-than-average view on cultural awareness and action.

Black parents also expressed lower-than-average opinions in other categories, including additional family assistance, learning behavior, learning model and student needs.

"Institutional racism has taken hundreds of years to evolve into what it is today. When we talk about trying to address it, and we are trying—the one thing that we have to continue to do is provide teachers with resources and have conversations about race," Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal said during the Jan. 28 meeting. "We are talking about changing a culture, not only in the school district but in the community. We are trying very hard to change it, but I don't want to give the false impression that we are going to dismantle institutional racism in the course of a few months."

It should be noted that Black respondents did make up a small sample size of survey respondents, with 32 respondents out of 2,397 parents who were surveyed.

Another group of parents who expressed significantly less satisfaction than the district average were parents of students who preferred to self-describe their gender. While 63% of parents expressed a favorable view on family-school communication, only 46% of parents of self-described gender students expressed a favorable view. When it came to student needs, 57% of parents expressed a favorable view, but parents of self-described gender students were only 40% favorable.

APS plans to utilize the same survey in June, to see if adjustments that are made between now and the end of the school year have an impact on the responses

"We are using this data as a benchmark, this is the first time we have done this kind of survey. I am very happy with the way we have administered it to staff, to the community and to students. I think if we continue to dive into the data, we will be able to develop a plan with some consistency across the district where we can identify areas of growth," McNeal said.

Starting in February, students will be surveyed on their social and emotional learning opinions in APS, which will be reported back to the public in approximately one month.

Data from the survey conducted by Panorama Education on Social Emotional Learning can be found on the town's website.


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