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Districts Turn to Social Media, But Parents Prefer Emails, Calls, and Texts

Parents want schools to communicate with them via email, and that is why schools' more recent focus on using social media platforms to get their messages out may be misguided.

That's the takeway from new survey findings released Tuesday by nonprofit research group Project Tomorrow and ed-tech company Blackboard Inc.

"The data shows that parents value having information pushed to them rather than having to search and find it on their own," Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, said in a statement. "Given the time pressures faced by most parents, this is not surprising. What is surprising is the disconnect we see between what parents and administrators say are the best communications tools."

Among the survey's key findings:

  • A third of parents aren't satisfied with teacher-to-home communication, and a quarter of parents aren't satisfied with district-to-home communication.
  • Parents overwhelmingly prefer email for both district- and teacher-level communications. They prize timeliness and personalization, especially for communications about their child's academic progress.
  • Just 16 percent of parents say Facebook is an effective way to communicate school and district information, compared with 78 percent of district communications officers.
  • Nearly half of parents want school and district information texted directly to them, while just 19 percent want to go to a website to find the information.

The survey results are part of Project Tomorrow's annual Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning. They include responses from more than 514,000 K-12 students, parents, and educators from October 2016 to January 2017.

The report found that overall, school principals describe communications with parents as a significant challenge. That's particularly true with the advent of new instructional approaches, such as blended-learning models that mix face-to-face with online instruction. 

Parents who responded to the survey said they would like to receive more information about the technology their children are using at school, as well as recommendations about apps they can use at home to support their children's learning. Parents also reported generally low levels of information about student achievement in their child's school and district.

There were meaningful differences by age and grade level; parents of elementary-aged children, for example, were generally more satisfied with communications from their child's teacher, and were also more likely to favor face-to-face meetings and handwritten notes than parents of older children.

Among social media platforms, Facebook appears to be the most popular among school districts for communicating general information, good news, and crisis alerts. Twitter is emerging, but still less popular.

The full report, "Trends in Community Engagement: Text, Twitter, Email, Call—New Expectations for School-to-Home Communications," is available online.

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