As new school year begins, parents increasingly concerned about kids falling behind

New USA Today poll shows majority of Americans support mask and vaccine requirements in the classroom

The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
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Washington, DC, September 7, 2021

A new USA Today/Ipsos poll finds that more parents of school-aged children feel their child is behind due to online or distance learning, compared to in May 2020. At the same time, fewer now believe their local district prepped their child(ren) well for virtual learning. As children across the country head back to in-person school, the poll also finds that, despite concerns about severe illness for their children if exposed to COVID-19, a majority of parents support returning to in-person classes every day. There is also majority support, however, for requirements on what the return should look like. Most Americans and parents alike support schools or states requiring masks for teachers and students, and vaccination requirements for teachers.

Detailed Findings

1. Half of all parents with school-age children feel their school district prepared their children well for online learning during the pandemic. This represents a 15 percentage point decline since the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

  • A majority of parents believe online learning caused their children to fall behind in school (55%) and that teachers have struggled to support their children during online learning (60%).
  • Compared to May 2020, this represents a nine-point increase in parents reporting that virtual learning is causing their child to fall behind. The shift on school district preparedness has been even greater (50%, down from 65%).
  • Among the general public, 65% approve of teachers in their local public school district, down from 76% in 2018. Approval for local school leadership and for national teachers’ unions has also decreased slightly, by seven and nine percentage points since 2018, respectively.
  • Parents report that academic progress and lack of extracurricular activities has been their children's greatest struggles throughout the pandemic (40%), along with lack of physical activity (38%) and issues with making and maintaining friendships (37%). More parents of children age 10 and under are more concerned about their child’s issues with friendships (44%) than parents of children age 11 and older (33%).

2. There is strong support among parents for returning to in-person classes every day. However, among both parents and the public, there is also broad support for mask and vaccine requirements for teachers.

  • Seven in ten parents with children under 18 at home, and 67% of all Americans, support schools returning to in person classes five days a week. However, even more agree it should be up to individual parents to make a decision if their children will return to in person classrooms this year (81% of all parents with children under 18, 74% of all Americans).
  • Overall, around two-thirds support schools or states implementing mask mandates for teachers (65% of Americans, 64% of parents) and mask mandates for students (65% of Americans, 62% of parents). Sixty-five percent of Americans also support requiring teachers and school staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, though support among parents is slightly lower (56%).
  • While a majority of Americans support requiring eligible students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 (59%), only half of parents are in favor. Support varies most by partisan affiliation, rather than the age of your child.

3. Though less than half of parents with school-aged children support their child’s school teaching “critical race theory,” a strong majority support teaching about the history, and ongoing effects, of slavery and racism in the United States.

  • Forty-nine percent of parents with kids in school support their child’s school teaching critical race theory. However, there is much higher support for teaching the history of slavery and racism in the US (76%) and teaching the ongoing effects of slavery and racism (63%).
  • Similarly to support for vaccine mandates for students, support for teaching the ongoing effects of this history differ more by parent’s partisan affiliations than by age of your child (38% of Republicans, 82% of Democrats support this).
  • A plurality of Americans (22%) say it’s appropriate to start teaching children about racism in kindergarten. An equal number of parents of elementary school children say the same. Overall, most Americans feel the appropriate age to start teaching this topic is somewhere before middle/secondary school.

About the Study

These are the findings of an USA Today/Ipsos poll conducted between August 30 – September 1, 2021. For this survey, a sample of 2,010 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English. The sample includes 427 parents of children under 18, 261 Parents with kids ages 10 and under, and 242 Parents with kids ages 11 and above.

The sample was randomly drawn from Ipsos’ online panel, partner online panel sources, and “river” sampling and does not rely on a population frame in the traditional sense. Ipsos uses fixed sample targets, unique to each study, in drawing a sample. After a sample has been obtained from the Ipsos panel, Ipsos calibrates respondent characteristics to be representative of the U.S. Population using standard procedures such as raking-ratio adjustments. The source of these population targets is U.S. Census 2018 American Community Survey data. The sample drawn for this study reflects fixed sample targets on demographics. Posthoc weights were made to the population characteristics on gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, and education.

Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online non-probability polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error and measurement error. Where figures do not sum to 100, this is due to the effects of rounding. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents. Ipsos calculates a design effect (DEFF) for each study based on the variation of the weights, following the formula of Kish (1965). This study had a credibility interval adjusted for design effect of the following (n=2,010, DEFF=1.5, adjusted Confidence Interval=+/-4.0 percentage points).

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Chris Jackson
Senior Vice President, US
Public Affairs
+1 202 420-2025
[email protected]

Mallory Newall
Vice President, US
Public Affairs
+1 202 420-2014
[email protected]

Kate Silverstein
Media Relations Specialist, US
Public Affairs
+1 718 755-8829
[email protected]

About Ipsos 

Ipsos is the world’s third largest Insights and Analytics company, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people.

Our passionately curious research professionals, analysts and scientists have built unique multi-specialist capabilities that provide true understanding and powerful insights into the actions, opinions and motivations of citizens, consumers, patients, customers or employees. We serve more than 5000 clients across the world with 75 business solutions.

Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris since July 1st, 1999. The company is part of the SBF 120 and the Mid-60 index and is eligible for the Deferred Settlement Service (SRD).

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The author(s)
  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs