The Myth of Parental Dissatisfaction

What the data actually says.

One blue smiley face sticky note on background of yellow frowny face sticky notes

See if this sounds familiar. You have ten positive parent-teacher conferences where families tell you what a wonderful teacher you are and how much their child is learning. But you go home at the end of the night upset because of that one conference where the parents said you weren’t doing enough for their kid. I think a lot of teachers are this way. We tend to pay more attention to the negative experiences. We’re also constantly bombarded with negative news around education, with the push for “parental rights” and bans on books and articles all promoting the idea that parents don’t trust teachers. I think all of this really colors how we, as educators, see parental dissatisfaction. As it turns out, parents aren’t as dissatisfied as we might think.

Most parents are pretty happy

According to Gallup, 73 percent of parents of school-aged children say they are satisfied with the quality of education their oldest child is receiving. And that’s not far off the average of 76 percent since 1999. It’s taken a dip from the high of 82 percent in 2019, but that was pre-pandemic. And it’s actually a good deal higher than rates of satisfaction in 2002 (68 percent) and 2013 (67 percent).

Our own research at WeAreTeachers supports the idea of overall parental satisfaction with schools. In a December 2021 survey, 82 percent of teachers reported that they believed the families of their students trusted them as an educator. And 65 percent of teachers said families viewed their school positively.


The people complaining don’t have kids in schools

So if parents are mostly happy with education, where is all this noise coming from? Well, K-12 parents are one thing, and the general public is another. When it comes to K-12 education, Gallup found that “the public now tilts more dissatisfied (54 percent) than satisfied (46 percent).”


Jessica Grose of The New York Times explains, “All of this at least raises the question of whether some of the people driving the outrage against schools might not have much skin in the game and might not have any recent experience with teachers or curriculum… At the very least we should resist easy conclusions about who is angry about what’s happening in our public schools and whether it has anything to do with the reality of what’s going on day to day for millions of children and their families.”

This is about dissatisfaction with education as a whole

When I look at the numbers, I see people upset about education as a whole. And I don’t entirely disagree. We are, in many ways, an institution in crisis. We are facing many challenges, from inequality to violence to student poverty. But we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Schools play an important role in providing structure and safety to millions of American students. And families seem to understand that.

Because when it comes to their children’s teachers and what’s going on in their individual classrooms and schools, parents generally approve.

There are bad apple parents

All of this is not to say that some parents aren’t dissatisfied. I don’t have to tell you that some parents are downright unpleasant (and in some unfortunate cases, that’s putting it mildly). I’m not discounting your experiences. But I am encouraging you to take the messaging around education with a grain of salt.

That one parent may be the loudest, and your education doom-scrolling might tell you otherwise, but most of your students’ families do support you. And in the words of Levar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”

What is your experience with parental dissatisfaction? Please feel free to share in the comments.

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The Myth of Parental Dissatisfaction