I’m A Bit Wary Of Harvard’s Plan For Online Parent Surveys

In Education Week’s new article, Harvard, SurveyMonkey Offer Tool to Weigh Parent Engagement, the school and company announce a plan for school districts to use an online service to “measure the quality of parent-school relationships.”

Even though they also briefly mention the service could incorporate paper versions of such a poll, and even though respected parent engagement researcher Karen Mapp is involved, I’m still wary of the effort.

I wrote a post about this topic last year (“Districts Use Web Polls to Survey Parents on Hot Topics”) and I’ll just quote a portion of what I said then:

There are obviously a lot of concerns with doing something like this, not least of which being many families can’t afford computers or Internet access. Some school officials raise those concerns within the article, and say that’s why they use multi-lingual phone polling, too.

When I was a community organizer, we used to say the only reason to do a survey or poll was to have an excuse to engage in a conversation. Because of the belief, I’m very wary of schools making any kinds of decisions based on surveys — online or by phone. People are generally restricted to the multiple choice answers provided, and you can’t really determine how strongly people feel about a topic — some will say what they think they should say and not what they really think. You also can’t identify a person’s leadership potential or their social network, and you can’t develop a relationship with them through a survey, either.

I hope online polling doesn’t doesn’t make schools feel like they are really doing anything to engage parents. It’s just another form of one-way communication, and not the two-way conversation, schools need to have with families.

Online polling could have a small place in the scheme of things, but, if I were a school administrator, I wouldn’t place a whole lot of confidence in it.

What do you think?

One thought on “I’m A Bit Wary Of Harvard’s Plan For Online Parent Surveys

  1. Hi Larry,

    First I want to say that I am a fan and have used many of your articles to support my own positions on parent engagement, personally, professionally and as an MA student focusing on family engagement in education. So thank you for the great information!

    Regarding this post, the company I work for recently published a short case study on the efficacy of engaging parents online in a decision making process regarding school boundary changes. http://blog.thoughtstream.ca/school-boundary-changes/ In this case school superintendent chose a tool that worked for the families in his catchment and the topic was a good match for the tool.

    I think the danger occurs when administrators begin to reach for only one tool in their engagement tool box at the exclusion of all others. The IAP2 Spectrum of Public Engagement and Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation provide guidelines and suggest methods for engagement. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we used these to guide our engagement efforts?

    What if we began the engagement planning process with a goal of more than just informing or consulting? What might it be like to begin with the goal of at least collaboration?


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