Ep. 321: Teen Survey

May 20, 2022

In today’s podcast we talk about the recent teen survey which answers some questions about post-pandemic life for students.

Mike McShane: Hello, and welcome back to another edition of EdChoice Chats. This is Mike McShane, Director of National Research at EdChoice, and we’re doing something special today. We’re talking about some recent polling that we released, which was unique in the work that we do because while we do some polling of teachers, we do some polling of Americans and school parents, we actually did a kind of paired poll in March where we talked to teens and we talked to high school parents and we asked a similar battery of questions to both of them to try and see where folks are agreeing with one another, where they might be disagreeing with one another, and to think about the experiences that they’ve had over the past couple of years. So the poll itself was in the field from March 12th to March 27th. We pulled about 1,000 American teenagers from ages 13 to 18, and just over a thousand, 1,030 parents of at least one high school students. That’s how you had to qualify to get into our survey in our partnership with Morning Consults. If you’re interested in the survey that we’re talking about here, you can always go to our website, edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com. But when I was putting this together, I was thinking, who would be a good person to talk about this? Now, if you’ve listened to our normal podcast related to polling, John Kristof, my colleague, is pretty close to a teenager. He’s far close to being a teenager than I am, but he’s probably too old for that. So I reached out to my colleague, Keri Hunter, who is our training and outreach guru. If you’ve ever been part of an EdChoice event, chances are her fingerprints were on it. And she’s one of the reasons that our stuff is the best in the business, because I knew that she had a high school daughter. And I said, do you think the two of you would be willing to come on the podcast and talk about our poll? It was a long shot, but I am happy to say that we are joined today by Keri and Emily Hunter. So Keri, Emily, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Keri Hunter: Hey, Mike, we’re glad to be here.

Mike McShane: So Emily, I think I’ll start with you. You are a junior in high school in the great state of Indiana. And part of our poll was talking to teenagers about their kind of experiences throughout the course of the pandemic. And again, the sort of stage that we’re in right now. So I might start by asking you the question, has school gone back to normal? Does it feel kind of like how it was before the pandemic? Is it still kind of pandemic-e? Like what is school like right now for American high school student?

Emily Hunter: So I would say school has gone back to normal, but I think the memories of when it was not still linger in our minds, and we all remember what it was like in a way to not be able to see each other and learning was a different environment. So I’d say after like the final mask mandate was lifted, we all felt like we could finally breathe again and we could just embrace that we were back to somewhat of a new normal, but it felt like high school had restarted in a way.

Mike McShane: What do you feel about the times in which you weren’t together? Do you look back on that? Like are you sad about that? Is it just kind of like, this is the way the world works? How do you feel about the last two years of what happened to your school?

Emily Hunter: I think in the moment it was sad and obviously devastating, but it’s a new way to appreciate what we went through. And now that we are all back together, it seems like still at any point that could change. So we just appreciate what we got before and what we get now and just think about how we’re just lucky to be all back together.

Mike McShane: For sure. So Keri, in our polling, we asked parents what three best words describe how you feel about your child’s high school experience right now. So it wasn’t necessarily how they’re feeling, but the top five emotions that high school parents are feeling right now. Morning Consult pulled together one of those great little word cloud things, so it’s like the bigger the word is. But anyway, the top five emotions were stressed, good, excited, happy, and fun, which is kind of an interesting mix of sort of positive and negative emotions, and I don’t know if that’s just sort of part of being a high school parent. But if you were thinking about your kids’ experience in school right now, how would you describe how you feel about it?

Keri Hunter: Well, right now, yes, we appreciate every little thing. If there is something after school or sporting events, it just feels like everything is much more appreciated because they lost so much. I mean, Emily was a freshman at one of her first track practices when the world shut down. And so those times were tough, but yes, I do feel like we appreciate the little things of any school activity, awards, banquets. Things like that are back now, and so yes, we feel good, we feel optimistic, still with that great cloud lingering from the past with a little bit of trauma left over from the pandemic, but things are feeling good.

Mike McShane: Well, that’s good to hear. So Emily, I’m curious, was there anything from like pandemic schooling that was different from what had happened traditionally that you liked or that you thought might be good? I ask that because one of the questions that we’ve asked teenagers is about after the pandemic, if given the option, how many days per week would you like to attend class in person? Obviously like historically kids go five days a week. And consistently when we’ve asked this question, we’ve done it a couple times now, between 40 and 45% of teenagers have said, “We’d like to go some version of hybrid schooling. Some mix of days at home and at school.” That’s only one example. Some students liked doing stuff online. There were other parts to it. And so I’m just curious from your experience, was there anything there that you look back on and you’re like, it’s great that we don’t have to wear masks so we can look at each other right now, but there were some parts of it that would actually be nice to keep.

Emily Hunter: I think that I really liked some of my classes that were online and I think that after the pandemic, especially when we’re all going back, it would be nice to have some credit makeup classes online. I know that a lot of people suffered with grades through the pandemic and not being able to be in class. So I think that would really help kids to catch up or recover from what they lost. And then just not going to school every single day, I think that would be beneficial because I think when I was online a little bit, it was hard to struggle and stay focused. But having that piece brought in to where we can go in and get a little bit of visual learning, that was still very appreciated. So I think that if kids even have the choice regarding their own safety to choose to go in or not and what their families choose for them, I think that would be very helpful.

Mike McShane: That’s really interesting. Keri, what do you think about that? Obviously one of the hold ups for some of these things is parent schedules and others. What do you think about that?

Keri Hunter: Well, I thought some of the online learning was nice in preparing them maybe if they were going to go to college because they were at their own pace a little bit. And so staying up until midnight or 1:00 finishing those assignments, maybe that was preparing them.

Mike McShane: Something to get used to, sure.

Keri Hunter: Yeah. But absolutely some of the FaceTime was needed for particular classes. But I do think the balance of being home a little bit takes some pressure off of teenagers. So I think a good mix going back would be nice. Our district actually does one e-learning day per month and they’ve been doing that for five or six years. So we were in a better space to kind of convert over to virtual. The kids already knew how and had one-on-one devices. So I know we were super fortunate in that. So I think it was a good flow and I think Emily’s right, credit recovery using some online stuff, doing summer stuff. I mean, I think a lot of schools have learned things that they can do now because of the pandemic.

Mike McShane: So Emily, one of the things that we did, we asked this question of both teenagers and of parents. When thinking about the future, what words describe how you feel right now? So we asked teenagers how they feel about their future. And then we asked parents how they feel about their teenagers’ future. And one of the things that we found that’s kind of interesting was that parents were more likely to be optimistic, happy, satisfied, like sort of positive viewing words. So an example, we said, you could choose between optimistic or pessimistic. And teenagers, only 45% said that they were optimistic about their future. Most of them were kind of neutral. There were only 11% who said that they were pessimistic about the future. But parents were like, 70% of them said that they were optimistic about their teenagers’ futures. Now, obviously like your generation, your cohort has gone through this sort of cataclysmic event. I’m kind of interested, just as you look in the future, you have another year of school and then whatever’s going after that. Are you hopeful for the future? Are you optimistic about the future? You already kind of mentioned on here that I thought was interesting that sort of at any moment, the masks could come back or the remote learning could come back. So I’m just kind of interested in how you’re looking at the future right now.

Emily Hunter: I would say I’m definitely optimistic about my future now, but I think that at the height of the pandemic, a lot of people, including myself, lost hope of even returning back to school. We just had to accept that this is the way that it’s going to be. We thought that we wouldn’t even get to walk the stage one day. But I think being back in school now, graduating is coming soon and we know that it is going to happen now. So we’re all really looking forward to that and talking about college because that is not far away. So a lot of us are getting excited and ready for it and are ready to move on and ready to get back to that new normal. But I think definitely even the thought of graduating was pushed to the back of our heads because we had so much in front of us that we had to focus on.

Mike McShane: Totally. Keri, I’d be interested in your kind of perspective because I’m in this interesting place. So Emily, I’m about 20 years older than you. And when I was in high school, which makes me feel old to say that it was two decades ago, but we had some cataclysmic. So like 9/11 happened when I was I think a sophomore in high school. By the time I’m graduating, like the Iraq war is kicking off and guys that I knew that I went to school with went and fought in that. A couple years later, like right after I graduated from college is the global financial crisis and all these. So you had these cataclysmic events that I think affected the way my generation of people thinks about the world. And so 10 years later to have a global pandemic, we’re kind of like, yeah, this is kind of par for the course, horrible things happen. But there were generations before us that went a very long time without something like that happening. But Keri, I’m interested in like as you look to your kids’ future, are you optimistic about the next 5, 10, 20 years? Are you more pessimistic? Have you been jaded by the last 20 years of American life or are you hopeful for the future?

Keri Hunter: Yeah. I will say, I mean, we’ve talked pretty positively so far, but the pandemic was bad. It was rough around here. It was like [inaudible 00:11:16]. Every day the kids woke up, can I do this? Can this person come over? Can I go here? And it was just a constant stream of no, no, no. Lots of crying, lots of hand-wringing. So I think that made us pop into the positive quicker and try to forget the past. But I do worry about some of the kids. I was talking to other parents who have seniors this year and they just, they felt like their sophomore, junior years, they really missed out on some of the socialization that you do in high school. There’s a big growth curve between being a freshman and being a senior. So I think there are some of my friends who worry about their kids and that this cloud is still following them. But all you can do really is to be hopeful and optimistic and hope that they didn’t miss out on learning something super critical. High schoolers I think are better off. If I had a kid in kindergarten or first grade during this, I would probably be hiring a tutor, looking for other ways to supplement in case they missed out on some really big learning milestones. But I think the socialization part and the overall sadness that a lot of high schoolers were feeling, it made it easier to bounce back because they were so low. So getting kind of to a normal was easy and makes things a lot more positive now.

Mike McShane: Oh, for sure. So what’s wild is while this pandemic is happening, there’s obviously a lot of, and probably exacerbated by all of the stuff around with the pandemic, but we’ve been going through a kind of rough political patch here as well. I mean, contentious elections, we had obviously the murder of George Floyd and the summer of kind of discontent after that and demonstration, lots of stuff that was happening. And then obviously lots of things like debate and discussion around what to do about the pandemic. People disagreed about things like masks and vaccine, all this stuff. So it was just this like powdered keg happening. And obviously I imagine that had to trickle into school. So we asked this question to both teenagers and to parents about sort of what happens in classic discussions about political issues, right? And so we asked questions about everything, sort of all of the political topics of the day. And we asked teenagers, are you hearing teachers talk about this? Are you hearing your classmates talking about this? And then interestingly, we kind of asked what parents thought was happening. And there were some kind of disagreement between those two numbers. So Emily, I’m just interested in how these events have kind of trickled into the classroom. Were your peers kind of talking about the election? Were they talking about things like masking and vaccines? Were your teachers talking about that and how did you feel about that? Were you comfortable with those discussions? Did it get to the point where you’re like, “This is kind of weird and I don’t want to talk about this. I just want to be in school.” What was your experience with that?

Emily Hunter: I think that when I was in school, the talk of the election is something I remember a lot of because I live in a small town, so everybody’s talking about it and it’s obviously a really big thing that’s going on. So I just remember a lot of my peers talking about it, sharing their opinions, posting their opinions. And there was a lot of backlash around that depending on who you supported. I think my teachers tried to stay very neutral throughout it all because they had to. Not a lot of teachers spoke out about it. They kind of hushed a lot of the conversations just so that we wouldn’t get into arguments over it. Some teachers talked about just they wanted peace and they wanted everybody to be happy and safe. So conversations about that. But when I was a sophomore, there was a class that I was in, it was an ethnic studies class. I look back on that and if it wasn’t for that class, I think it’d be very uneducated about current events because I remember being in that class and with everything going on, that class just turned into a current events. Every single day, there was a new topic. The protest. We talked about the election, we talked about a lot of backlash on all of that people’s opinions. We talked about the right and the left. We talked about just everything under the sun. And I think that really helped. So from my point of view, being in that class helped me a lot about politics. But I think if you weren’t in that class, you still got exposed to it throughout your peers and what they were saying in social media, what they’re talking about in class, everyone posting about it.

Mike McShane: It’s good to know that those things never change, like people posting about these things. But Keri, it’s interesting your feel of all of this, of sort of the experience that your kids were having. Again, Keri knows this. Emily, I don’t know if you know, I used to be a high school teacher and I was a high school teacher during the 2008 election, obviously like a super historic election. It’s impossible for politics to not get into the classroom, right? This stuff is obviously going to happen because it’s on the news and people are going to go and vote and all these things, but there’s this fine line of how to have conversations in a way that’s productive and respectful. And so Keri, I’m just kind of interested in you looking out on all of this. Do you think stuff was kind of handled well, do you think things got uncomfortable, and sometimes uncomfortable is okay, but just your kind of take on what you saw.

Keri Hunter: Yeah. We had a lot of good dinner table debates in the house because most teenagers, they read memes, they watch TikToks, and that’s obviously from someone’s perspective. And so we just sort of had this conversation early on with Emily to say, “Hey, we’re open to talk about things. So bring them up and let’s talk them through.” Sometimes it was through kind of gritted teeth like that’s not what that means, but we try to have an open mind and not shut down on ideas. But yeah, it’s very difficult. You had an election, you had the murder of George Floyd, you had this awakening of people talking about systemic racism and the impact of that on different policy areas in America. So yeah, on top of just the sadness of being locked down at home, then you just had the weight of all of this other stuff going on. So yeah, it was an interesting time. Like I said, keeping those doors of communication open was really important. Emily’s father has been a politician. And so he obviously has big opinions on lots of things. So we didn’t want to say things like, “Hey, until you’re a taxpayer, you own your own home. Don’t talk about these things.” We wanted to go the opposite and say, “All right, let’s talk through them and find out where these opinions are coming from.”

Mike McShane: We’ve been asking this question in some of our polling. Did your district have any protests or anything, like protests at school board meetings?

Keri Hunter: We did a little bit. And I thought there was a really good tagline with one of the protests, and I think five people showed up at the flag pole at the high school. We’re in a small town like Emily said, but they used the tagline, “Let freedom breathe.” And I applauded them. I thought, “Oh, that’s a good little tagline to use.” But not too much… No raging or screaming or police at board meetings. I will say the district in the beginning wasn’t the best at communicating, but I very quickly picked up on and changed the tone of their messaging. It was more straightforward. You may not agree with these things, but in order to keep school open or sporting events open, this is what we’re doing. And so I did see a change in their communication style and I totally applaud them for that. I think that made a big difference and it tapped down on the rage because they were taking out the why behind the decision making. They would say things like, “This has nothing to do with X, Y, and Z. We just want to keep school open. Therefore, we’re making these decisions to keep your kids in school.” And so that really helped. And I think constant emails, newsletters, Facebook posts, things like that. They did a great job and that kept parents really informed and made them feel safer.

Mike McShane: That’s interesting. I want to say, I think in our polling, something like one in five folks around that area have said that there were some sort of protest or something, but it’s interesting there was. Obviously with all the topics that were going on, the coronavirus stuff was the most popular thing to have happened. So both of you mentioned it a couple times, so Emily, you talked about your ethnic studies class and others, and Keri, you talked about sort of news via meme. Again, we’ve asked these questions of teens, but Emily, I’d be interested, where do you get your news from? I know obviously you took a class that sort of became a current events thing, but just like from day-to-day, if you’re trying to find out what’s going on in the world, what are your news sources?

Emily Hunter: I would say definitely social media would be number one. I know that that is risky and there is bias everywhere. So I’d say that I’m aware of how that is not the best forum but it’s the easiest. And when you need to know something immediately, it’s where a lot of kids my age just go to because you can just pull out your phone and open Twitter, Instagram. My parents have the news on in the house sometimes. So walking past that, that can give me what I need to know. But I would say definitely social media or just simply looking it up on Google.

Mike McShane: That’s interesting. And so the stuff kind of trickles in, you hear someone mention it or whatever. And so then you look it up and sort of what’s trending that day. Yeah, it’s kind of interesting that you recognize the downsides to things like social media, but newspapers have their problems too and so it is like with television news. So I think everyone’s going to… But Keri, as you mentioned, you have discussions around the dinner table or whatever. How do you think about sort of, I don’t know, whether it’s shaping or encouraging certain media consumption habits? Is it something that you’re just like, the metaphor is like the cow’s out of the barn or something, that there’s no point in worrying about it, or do you try and shape kind of media consumption habits towards certain outlets and not others or certain sort of media, not others?

Keri Hunter: What we try to do is if Emily comes home with like a hot topic or something, we just, we talk about it and then we just try to logically think it through. Like if there’s kind of an outlandish statement like, I don’t know, I was trying to think of something to say, but everything I could say would be terrible so I won’t. But if there’s something kind of outlandish, then we just kind of walk it through a little bit. Like, do you really think people are sitting in a room making decisions that are blah, blah, blah? So that’s one thing that we do. I will say, remember a few years ago after the mass school shooting down in Florida and all of the high schoolers across America did the walkout, the way kids found out about that, they found out through Snapchat. So that’s how there was kind of this national walkout that day because the kids had their phone and they got Snapchat ads and things like that. So that really piqued our interest like, ooh, we need to be careful and talk things through. So yes, we talk about quotes and memes and TikTok videos and little snippets and how anybody can say anything and you have to really do the research. So yeah, we’re cautious. And if things are really heating up, we try to turn the news off for a while around the house.

Mike McShane: Well, this is a great ad for EdChoice’s TikTok channel, which I think is EdChoice Official. Emily, I’m curious, when it comes to social media, do you have like a ranking of where you go first? Are you like TikTok first or Twitter first or what is your ranking of kind of… I feel like Facebook isn’t cool anymore. If it’s not cool for me, there’s like no possible way that it’s cool for you, but what would be your ranking?

Emily Hunter: I would say definitely Instagram or Twitter first. I would say TikTok takes a while to get in the rhythm of like it has to hit a stream and then it’ll all show up on our phones. So it’s normally like a day or two late, but I’d say Instagram is so easy because your feed will update you with the most recent post and you can just follow any news channel and you will see their post first thing when you open your phone.

Mike McShane: Well look, Keri, Emily, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. Again, anyone who’s interested in the poll that we put together, you can check it out at edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com. But I really appreciate the two of you kind of putting a human face in your own stories on some of the data that we have. So thank you so much for joining us.

Keri Hunter: You’re welcome.

Emily Hunter: Thank you for having us.

Mike McShane:All right, everybody. It was great talking with all of you and I look forward to chatting with you again on another edition of EdChoice Chats.