Ep. 383: Monthly Tracker – July 2023

August 11, 2023

“Where do you typically receive information about K-12 education?” The EdChoice Research team asked that question and many others to America’s public and school parents. Listen today to find out the team’s most notable findings.

Mike McShane: Hello and welcome back to another edition of EdChoice Chats. This is Mike McShane, director of National Research at EdChoice, and this is our monthly installment of our Tracker podcast. Those of you probably know each month we partner with Morning Consult to poll a nationally representative sample of Americans. We over sample parents to make sure to get a representative sample of them as well. And I am joined by my colleagues, John Kristof and Colyn Ritter to talk about a poll that we had in the field from July 7th through 17th of 2023. 

We are in these dog days of summer here, so we won’t really sort of belabor this poll. I think it’s probably fair for all of us to say that most of us are not necessarily in school mode. Maybe by the time you’re hearing this podcast, you’re probably getting back into school mode, but when this was taken in the week or two after the 4th of July, basically the farthest point from when people are thinking about school. 

There were some interesting things in it. We asked a couple new questions that I think are relevant, whether it’s the summertime or whether it’s the school year, and so we certainly want to dig into those, but don’t worry, we will be brief and then you can get back to enjoying the last gasps of your summer. Sorry to be a bummer to think of it in that way. 

But anyway, Colyn, we asked some new questions this month about information like where parents get information and trustworthiness. Can you break down what those questions were and what we found? 

Colyn Ritter: Yeah, 100%. We started talking this month for the first time about information sources, like you said, Mike, and where parents get them, how trustworthy they are, and also what would they like to see and what would be most useful to them when thinking about possibilities for future information sources or just kind of ways to make getting information about your kids’ education and K–12 education in general just better. 

The first question was from what sources do you typically receive information about K–12 education and also the education of your child specifically, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it was four out of five parents that they get it directly from their school, 77% of parents that they get information about their child’s education directly from their school. That is not surprising at all, and it actually dwarfs the second most popular answer, which was friends or relatives, which was selected by 24% of parents and then followed up by things like social media, email, newsletters, community events, things like that. 

I think it was funny that we included billboards in here and 4% of parents selected billboards. I don’t think I’ve ever seen information about a child’s education posted on a billboard, but that’s an interesting one there. But 77% was the biggest directly from school. 

We also asked about the trustworthiness of these sources, and directly from school was trusted by about 71% of parents. So a lot of parents trust the information that they’re getting from their school. The next runners up were church and the email newsletters, about two thirds of parents said those were trustworthy, friends or relatives, about three in five parents said that those sources were trustworthy. 

The least trustworthy sources according to parents were social media, news articles, and the television. That was not surprising either, but 40% of parents say that they trust those sources and 50% of parents trust billboards, which again just kind of made me laugh when I was looking at that. I will be paying attention to all billboards next time I drive cross Missouri and see if there’s anything about K–12 education on there. 

Mike McShane: Missouri well-known for its highway billboards. You can get a whole entertainment those four hours from Kansas City to St. Louis. You can fill them with lots of billboard content. 

Colyn Ritter: Is Missouri the state with the most, it can’t be the state with the most billboards, but maybe per mile of highway? I don’t know. That’s something I’ll spend five minutes researching today, which will impact nothing but will still be useful in our next RTL meeting. 

John Kristof: I’ve driven across Missouri one time and I remember, like distinctly have memories of those billboards, and this was half my life ago. Just something about it. 

Colyn Ritter: No, I think that’s a really great point because I live most of my childhood in Arkansas and I just recently moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and I see no billboards about K–12 education, and it’s not surprising that that could potentially be chalked up to the fact that Arkansas, well, Arkansas is now relatively rich with choice compared to a couple years ago, but Missouri is not like Indiana in that regard. Yeah, that is a good reminder for people from states like that. 

John Kristof: I will say, if I can interrupt for just a second, just a quick note, for whatever it’s worth, I know that maybe billboards for K–12 education sound really weird, and I don’t know how people would feel about that if they’re not used to seeing them. I will say here in Indianapolis, which you can make an argument is one of the more choice rich areas in the country, billboards for schools are actually not that uncommon to see, particularly for a lot of charter schools. You can see some ads, but I have seen one for the local public school district as well. 

I know there’s some research out there about the effects of how does marketing or advertising change when more schooling options arrive in an area. So I just wanted to point out, depending on where you are and how choice rich your area is, it might change what kind of advertising or marketing you see for schools. 

Mike McShane: I think actually … John cut across too, now I’m going to do it. But something that you brought up, which I think is interesting, especially around where people get their information and also where they view them sort of as most trustworthy. In both cases, it’s directly from the school. 

And it’s something I’ve been really thinking about when it comes to the pandemic recovery because we’ve had this sort of incongruous thought where surveys are telling us a lot of objective data that we have is that students really suffered during the pandemic, that they didn’t make academic progress or actually sort of lost place. But parents don’t necessarily agree with that. When we’re surveying parents and asking them how well their students are doing, they’re saying, “Oh, actually that’s going pretty well.” 

Part of me thinks that this could be somewhat of a solution to that conundrum, which is like, well, most of them are getting information from their child’s school. They are trusting their school to shoot them straight on how their child is doing. And it’s possible that a child’s grades or just the information that’s being sent home from the school is not super accurate. The school is glossing over some of the problems that it had during the pandemic or for whatever reason, is viewing student performance through rose tinted glasses. 

So I think it’s actually really informative to the broader conversation of education, which is sort of, there’s lots of folks saying, “Listen, we need to have kids involved in tutoring. We need to do all sorts of stuff to try and make up for this.” Well, the first step of that is sort of convincing parents to participate in it. The first step of any program is identifying that you have a problem, and if schools are not accurately conveying that information to parents and they are the most common source, the most trustworthy source, that could explain some of that issue. 

Colyn Ritter: Yeah, and I was actually reading a Twitter conversation between two people in the education policy world. They were talking about the trustworthiness of each type of school, public versus private, things like that. And to plug our Schooling In America survey that we just released, the majority of parents in public school and charter school and then three out of four parents in private school said that they’d give their school an A or a B grade, they’d give their child school that grade. I think if the trustworthiness of those schools are in question, I feel like those numbers might be lower in how they grade their school. The trust of schools is a really interesting point. 

And then the last information question, just to tie it all up, we asked parents what they might consider to be useful when it comes to getting the information that they need for their child’s education and 66% of parents said that it’d either be extremely or very useful to have a dedicated website for searching and finding information. And then 59% said that a directory of possible schools and other education providers close to where you live, which I think was an interesting inclusion into this survey. I’d like to see how many parents actually have such a thing, but they would find that very useful. 

And then the least useful they said would be a dedicated hotline to answer questions to get information. So it sounds like parents would prefer to do some research online rather than over the phone, which again, not super surprising but interesting nonetheless. 

John Kristof: I think one thing that’s interesting to me, if we can just dwell on this point for a little further, is sure, the most trusted source of information that parents have about school and their kids’ education specifically is the school itself, which makes sense I suppose, as being the most trustworthy. But there’s near a dozen different options that we gave people to identify about where they’re getting their information from and how much they trust each one. 

While three times as many parents said that they get information about education through their kids’ school than any other category, the gap is not nearly so big when it comes to how much parents actually trust information. Schools are still highest at 71%, rating pretty high trustworthiness, but then you’ve still got two thirds of trustworthiness from church or newsletters, 60% trusting friends and relatives. Even half of people say that they would trust brochures and flyers to get information about things, just to reiterate what Colyn said. There’s I think interest in getting information from elsewhere. Maybe it’s just a matter of accessing that information or how available that information is to people. 

And I think from another side of the coin here, especially from us who spent a lot of time in these surveys thinking about things from a school choice angle, I know that surveys that we’ve done in the past of parents in states with robust school choice programs, if they’re not participating, one of the things that we ask them is, why are you not participating in the program? And parents are nearly equally likely to say in the couple instances where we’ve done this in Ohio and Arizona, the strongest reason is that they’re just happy with their child’s school, which is great. But then the second most common reason, which is not far behind, is that they just didn’t know that the program existed. 

So the idea of marketing alternatives is something that’s very important if we want parents to be able to take advantage of other options that exist in their area. Given that there seems to be a lack of information, it makes sense if most parents are only getting information about education from their kid’s school. I think their kid’s school probably is not going to be the best advertiser of alternatives or maybe even supplemental services that parents could take advantage of. But these other trustworthy information sources, church, friends, relatives, even just basic marketing like email and brochures, parents also trust that information as well, which makes me think that marketing actually still could very well be effective. 

And also, this is a bigger task, but the second most popular information source that we presented as different things that could be done to help people get information they need. 60% of parents thought a directory of possible schools and other education providers would be very or extremely helpful. So there’s a demand for or an interest in or this idea of getting information from other sources and specifically even information about other educational alternatives is something that resonates with a lot of the parents that we talk to a much stronger degree than I anticipated. A lot of interesting takeaways I think you can have from these new questions we asked this month. 

Mike McShane: And John, we asked another set of questions. I think we’ve sort of danced around them for a couple months, but we have some good numbers this month around AI, artificial intelligence. Could you talk a little bit about those questions and what we found? 

John Kristof: Yeah, AI is something that we’ve touched on a little bit before, but we have addressed a little bit more directly this month. We start with a simple question, which is just to what extent, if at all, have you ever heard of artificial intelligence, also called AI? And it turns out that among all adults who took our survey, 76% said that they had heard a lot or at least some about artificial intelligence. 31 specifically said that they had heard a lot about AI. People were most likely to have heard about AI if they were high income earners, if they were highly educated people, if they were male or identified as politically liberal, and maybe least surprising, if you were low income or in a rural area, you were less likely to have heard about AI. But still you’re looking at two thirds of people being familiar with AI, even at the bottom end of the scale here. So knowledge about or having heard something about AI has pervaded throughout a lot of society. 

We gave some examples about what AI could be, ChatGPT, which is something that we’ve asked specifically about before. And just as a reference point, I believe it was only like 30% or 35% said that they had heard something about ChatGPT specifically, and I can’t remember how many months ago that was. I just thought that was an interesting comparison point because we follow up this AI question with, have you ever used AI before in your free time or at work? And we give three examples of ChatGPT, ChatSonic, and Bloom. 62% said that they had never used it before, whereas 19% said that they used it in their free time, 4% said that they’d used it for work, and 6% said that they’ve used it for free time and work, so 29% have used it to some capacity. 

Interestingly, school parents were actually unusually likely to have used AI services like this in some capacity. Because they were 37% of them said that they’d used it compared to 29% of the general public. And perhaps not surprisingly at all, the younger you were the more likely you were to have used one of these programs before. There was one demographic where over 50% had used an AI service before and that was Gen Z, Millennials not too far behind. And perhaps also not surprising, the older you were, the least likely you were to have used these programs with baby boomers, the baby boomer generation being least likely to have used the programs used in AI service with 15%. 

I still feel like 15% is actually pretty high in the fact that that’s the lowest number we have of a demographic that’s used AI, I think, is pretty interesting. 

Just some interesting descriptive information about, I think, just how pervasive conversations about AI have become in our country, and even how widely familiar people have made themselves with it. 

Mike McShane: Yeah, absolutely. The numbers roughly tracked with what I expected, but I’m always of surprised by the number of people who say that they’ve used AI stuff because obviously I think probably all three of us probably have sort of played around with it. I’ve yet to really find a good way to apply it to anything other than sort of interests professionally. I have tried to use it a couple times. I’ve tried to use ChatGPT, and it has given me incorrect information every time that I’ve used it, so I just stopped. And I’m not paying for the new one though, so maybe it’s just the old one. Everyone I tell that to who’s more bullish on AI’s, like, “Oh, the new one’s much better.” I said, “Oh, okay. I’ll do that.” Maybe as everyone goes back to school, I’ll get back into that one. 

The numbers that stood out to me or that I was going to throw out is we’ve been asking these really interesting questions kind of comparing parents and non-parents on a variety of different questions around satisfaction and happiness and enthusiasm and enjoyment. And I was kind of curious how the summertime would be different. I have had to learn since becoming a parent, and especially as kids get older and start to hit school age, that while summer is super fun for kids, it is not nearly as much fun for adults or for parents. 

I will be perfectly honest when becoming a parent, I was completely oblivious to this fact, and I had been ingrained in me for years and years and years. I always look forward to the summer. I’m like, “Summer. Free time.” But it turns out when kids are no longer in school, but you are working, there’s an incongruity there that you have to navigate. And the days are longer, so there’s more time in which you must navigate that incongruity. 

I’m always interested … We looked at the questions here around things like happiness and enthusiasm and enjoyment. One of the things that I think is really interesting is we sort of consistently see that parents are, even in July, even at the time in which kids are really full on and you’ve got a lot to do, we still see parents overwhelmingly saying that they are more hopeful than fearful. They have more purpose than without purpose. They agree with the statement that they are enjoyment versus frustration. They are much more likely to say that they feel in control as opposed to overwhelmed, and this is even more so than non-parents. 

You think, look, non-parents have the opportunity to sit by the pool, drinking Mai Tais or whatever. And yet when it comes to optimism, enthusiasm, all of those things, they’re not scoring a higher on that. 

So fellow parents, school is starting back up. I’m expecting to see these numbers jump back up when the kids head back to school. But it was interesting that it didn’t necessarily dip as much as I thought it would. These seem to be relatively steady numbers regardless of the time of year in which they’re taking place. 

I’m gonna throw it out to you guys. Anything else? Colyn? Did anything else kind of stand out to you this month? 

Colyn Ritter: Yeah, and it came from actually one of our more evergreen questions, one that we’ve been asking since early 2020, so even before the start of COVID, which feels like forever ago, but we asked parents and the general public, do they feel K–12 education is going in the right direction or do they think it has gotten off on the wrong track? And a couple of trends that we typically see, one that parents are much more optimistic than the general public when it comes to K–12 education locally in their state and also nationwide. Another trend we see is that local school district optimism is much higher than state and national. Again, it’s like the closer you are in terms of proximity, whether it’s the general public or a parent, you feel a bit better about your school down the street, and also you have a little bit more stake in it as a parent compared to the general public, you also feel a bit more optimistic. 

But the thing that stuck out the most this month is that parents, when we asked them do they feel that K–12 education is going the right direction, 60% of parents said that they do feel it is going in the right direction locally in their local school district, 59%, which is one of the highest levels we’ve seen since Fall of 2022, and also going back to summer of 2021. So nearly two years ago, it was the last time we hit 60%, and we are right at that cusp again, granted state optimism is only at 46% and then 38% of parents feel that K–12 education nationwide is going in the right direction. 

But it stuck out to me because when we look at all adults in the general public, they’re going in separate directions here. 32% of Americans say that K–12 education is going the right direction locally. That is a 27 point gap, one of the highest gaps that we’ve seen since we began asking the question in 2020. 

Another reason that’s significant is that adults looking at the state level of education, 32% say it’s going the right direction there. So actually it’s tied now between local and state. Only 32% of Americans feel that it’s going in the right direction. That could be an interesting point if state were to flip and have higher levels of optimism, then the local school district, which would be one of the first times we’ve seen that. They’ve been tied in the past, but never have we seen consistently state be higher than a local school district in terms of optimism. And then also looking at national numbers, only 24% of Americans feel optimistic about K–12 education at a national level. 

Pretty interesting distinction to be made there. And it could continue to go up, the gap could continue to widen, or we could see it come back to what we’ve seen previously, but that’s just something to keep an eye on, and also something we saw in our Schooling in America survey, which again, everyone should check out. We had a podcast about that two weeks ago, so I’m not going to try and butcher the website URL. Go listen to that podcast and look at our dashboard because there’s a ton of good stuff in there. 

Mike McShane: Agreed. John, any parting shots here? 

John Kristof: I just encourage everyone interested in school choice issues to check out the demographic tables that we have for our school choice questions, because again, I think a lot of people, whenever they look at them or we present on them, people are surprised at how popular various school choice policies are with certain demographics. 

I think, and this month in particular, the ESAs are popular with demographic groups that I think would not be at first on a lot of people’s minds. So I’d just encourage people to check it out. I think there’s a lot of interesting takeaways about differences and how school choice programs sound to different groups of people, but also just generally how even among the least excited groups, there’s still a pretty sizable majority in support of school choice policies. 

But just would encourage people to check out the report online at choice.morningconsultintelligence.com. It’s edchoice.org. It’s edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com for the satellite website with all this data. Check it out for yourself, because I think there’s good takeaways there. 

Mike McShane: Fantastic. Well, John, Colyn, it’s great having chats with you. John, thank you so much for putting those URLs out there so that I don’t have to. 

But as always, you all can check out our websites that have all of this information, all of the cross tabs, all of our surveys, everything all neat and tidy in one place. 

I want to thank our podcast producer, Jacob Vinson, who will edit this all together and make it sound great and all of you for listening. And I look forward to chatting with all of you again on the next edition of EdChoice Chats.