When it comes to education, Millennial parents think differently

For Parents Jul 8, 2019

The American dream is the opportunity to do better than our parents did. But for every generation since 1940, there has been a lower and lower chance that Americans will earn more money than their parents. If you were born in 1940, there’s a 92% chance you’ve earned more than your parents. Born in 1980? Only a 50% chance.

Fortunately, Millennial parents are focused on education. It’s a way to increase the likelihood of reaching this quantified American dream. From The New York Times article, “The American Dream, Quantified at Last” by David Leonhardt:

Given today’s high-tech, globalized economy, the single best step would be to help more middle- and low-income children acquire the skills that lead to good-paying jobs. Notably, most college graduates still earn more than their parents did, other data show — yes, even after taking into account student debt.

Notice the good news? Some things don’t change over time. A high-quality education is still the way to a good life. That’s regardless of the generation or economic situation you’re in.

But while some things stay the same, Millennials’ view of education is changing. Additionally, there are differences in perspective between those of lower and higher economic status. Let’s look at three important views Millennials have on education, first outlined in this report by Echelon Insights (EI).

  1. Millennials have higher expectations for what school does for kids.
  2. Lower income families don’t think their kids are getting a good education at public schools
  3. Millennial parents want to know how much their children are learning.

Millennials have higher expectations for what school does for kids.

This is due largely to the fact that more families today have both parents working compared to previous generations. When both parents work, they have less time to spend with their children. Schools are expected to take on the burden of the missing 1:1 time between parents and kids.

A Richmond, VA Mom quoted in the Echelon Insights study captured the hectic schedule felt by Millennial parents, which leads them to expect more from school:

If you work full time, you don’t have as much time to spend with your kids doing homework...You get home and you have to fix dinner. And before you know, it’s time to jump in the bathtub and get ready for the next day.

Despite these schedules, kids’ needs don’t change. They still need education, nurturing, and care. So Millennial parents, more and more, rely upon schools to fill this gap.

Parents today don’t just have some general feeling that schools should do more. Now, there are new sets of skills parents expect students to learn within the four walls of school. What skills do parents expect schools to teach? From the EI survey, here are the ten most important skills parents wants kids to learn in school, with number one being the most important.

  1. Be able to get and keep a job
  2. Be able to handle their personal finances
  3. Be able to read at a 12th grade level
  4. Be able to feel confident in themselves
  5. Be able to be self-sufficient
  6. Be able to set personal goals and achieve them
  7. Be able to succeed in college if they choose to attend
  8. Be able to write at a 12th grade level
  9. Be able to build good personal relationships
  10. Be able to earn a comfortable living

Notice that only three of these skills (read at grade level, succeed in college, and write at grade level) are “academic skills.” Four of the skills (feel confident, be self-sufficient, set personal goals, and build good relationships) are “social and emotional skills.”

This is a trend with its own acronyms and curricular products that come with it. The social-emotional learning (SEL) movement, is a push for teachers to explicitly teach kids emotional resilience, communication, and self-awareness skills that in the past were left to family or religious groups.

Attitudes about what schools should teach are changing across the board. At the same time, there are breakdowns when it comes to how those of different socio-economic status feel about the quality of education provided.

Income level impacts parents’ views about education and the quality of their children’s schools.

Income inequality is growing in America, at both ends of the spectrum.

With graduates in 2015 owing about half as much as graduates did two decades ago, student debt is a big factor. There is still a return on investment for getting a college degree. However, the wages for skilled workers without a degree have been flat or falling for decades..

At the same time as these factors make some poorer, the rich are getting richer. The number of billionaires has almost double in the last few years, and the total net worth of these billionaires has increased.

While these numbers include extremes, the trends have real implications for typical families. Just look at the differences in views below between parents earning less than $50,000 and those earning more than $75,000.

Parents earning less than $50,000 Parents earning more than $75,000
Majority thinks schools are not good enough Almost 80% approve of kids' schools
Think schools and governments should improving schools Think parents are responsible for improving schools
Only about 50% feel they know enough about their childrens' progress in school Almost all feel they know enough about their childrens' progress in school
Source: Echelon Insights

These differences point to a theme: wealthier families feel a greater agency about their kids’ education. They feel more optimistic about the quality of their kids’ schools, feel they can improve the schools, and feel they know enough about their kids’ progress. This all stems from one having the access and ability to take agency in their kids’ education.

Poorer families, on the other hand, often experience lower quality schools because of the connection between school funding and property taxes. This leads to attitudes that outside institutions need to make more responsibility to provide a high quality education for their kids.

Regardless of socioeconomic status, all Millennials are increasingly interested in knowing how their children are progressing in their education.

Millennial parents want to know how much their children are learning.

Test scores are important to millennial parents. But they’re not the only factor that matters for evaluating schools or their own kids’ learning.

A few major takeaways from the Echelon Insights report:

  • Grades are still king. Over half of parents still say that grades are the best way for them to measure how well their children are learning. While there is growing popularity towards portfolio-based learning and even movements for teaching without grades, the typical percentage or letter system is familiar to Millennial parents, and here to stay for now.
  • Millennial parents talk to their kids. Despite the fears of screen time destroying conversation, a full 77% of parents today believe that the best way to figure out how much their kids are learning is to talk to them. Hopefully, “talking” in this case means more than just texting from the other room.
  • Test scores need to count for something. There is growing skepticism over the amount of testing happening in public schools. But over 70% of parents surveyed would feel better about standardized test results if they knew that success on the tests meant students were on track for college or careers.

Throughout the report, the trend heads in one direction: Millennial parents want more for their kids. Some feel schools are not doing enough, and some want to take a greater role in shaping and understanding their kids’ learning. Fortunately, the Internet opens up new opportunities for kids’ education.

More resources than ever before - but how to find the good stuff?

So, while there are many differences across socioeconomic lines, there is one thing that remains the same: parents care about their kids’ education today more than ever. Parents also have more resources available to help them support their kids learning than ever before, too. This is both a gift and a responsibility because you need to make time to sift through at all.

At Outschool, we take some of this burden off of you. We do this by vetting high quality teachers for our platform. We also offer a parent review system for our classes, so you know how parents like you felt about particular teachers’ past classes. If you’re interested in a flexible, affordable, and fun way to support your child’s education, you can sign up for a free Outschool account today.

Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson is a teacher, parent and writer for Outschool.