Fact Check: Mayor And The City Overstated Parent Responses On School Reopening

Fact Check: Mayor And The City Overstated Parent Responses On School Reopening
Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability. Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

For the past few weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been lauding the incredible response rate from parents in response to the Back to School survey the city’s Department of Education (DOE) conducted between June 15 and June 30.

“So, this is astounding. The DOE did a survey of parents and they got 400,000 responses – that is not a small sample size – 400,000 people answered the survey. And here’s the most important fact, 75% of our New York City public school parents want to send their kids back to school in September. They feel ready now. They know that’s what they want to do,” Mayor announced at his July 2 press conference. [Editor’s note: emphasis added]

“And our parents have spoken clearly, the DOE did an extraordinary survey of parents – 400,000 responses, 75% of our parents said they want their kids back in the school buildings, getting the very best education. And we need to listen to the voices of our parents as we plan, as we prepare, as we think about what they are saying about the people they know best, their own children, but also what they’re saying about their own lives. So many New Yorkers desperately need to get back to work. And for a lot of people, that means they have to get back to a workplace, and they need to know that their kids will be safe and secure, getting a chance to be educated much more deeply,” he said again on July 7.

Results from 2020 Back to School Survey, DOE

While there is some truth to these statements, in particular, that both children and parents want to be back in school and given the options that were presented and their experiences this spring they would prefer to be at school some days each week, the city overstated both how many parents responded and how much they want their kids back in school given the incredible uncertainty about what back to school will look like come September.

The actual survey received responses for just 301,138 students that were collected from parents, who have the final say in when and how their child attends school, rather than “over 400,000 parents” — I know, because I filled out three of these forms, one per child, and since they were anonymous save for the school and grade your child attends, I know the city would not know that I had responded for all my kids.

2020 Back To School Survey, DOE

There are over a million students in the NYC public school system, 1,126,501 to be exact, and the DOE received feedback on behalf of just about 1/4 of them – 27%. Where did the “over 400,000” number come from? DOE also administered the survey to and received 117,700 responses from students, and it is unclear how significant the overlap between the two response groups.

The participation rate in these surveys is also a far cry from the response rates on the NYC School Survey that is conducted annually and has received over a million responses each year since 2016.  According to the limited information shared from the survey, of the 273,633 students in PreK-12th grade in Brooklyn, parents filled out surveys for just 78,540, a response rate of about 29%, a little higher than the 27% city average.

When we asked the department and city hall to share additional information, repeatedly, we were met with silence, beyond confirming it was over 400,000 responses had been received.

The information we were looking for related to response rates across various schools and school districts. As we all know by now, the public school system in NYC is highly segregated both by race and income and we wanted to see which schools had received what kinds of response rates to check if any groups of parents and students were left out, especially since response rates in the Bronx were just 22%.

Are the more affluent parents from schools in District 15 responding at higher rates than parents from District 16? How many parents in Brownsville and East New York need childcare as opposed to those in Bensonhurst? What about responses from parents with kids with IEPs? DOE should have this information and be able to share it.

We have filed a request with the DOE under the Freedom of Information Law to get this information.


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