Special ReportThe Economy's Impact on Back to School

Amid economic and educational concerns, new poll finds parents plan to volunteer at schools, reconsider school options, and shop smarter
Classroom with kids

In a groundbreaking new study titled "The Economy's Impact on Back to School," GreatSchools and Harris Interactive find that parents, worried about the economy and education cutbacks, are planning to pitch in with greater volunteerism and shop smarter for school supplies. Many are also reconsidering what type of school their kids should attend.

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Key findings from the report

64% agree, 36% disagree

It's more important to volunteer in my child's school now than before.

1. Planned parent volunteerism at school is up 20%

In the context of current economic challenges, nearly two in three parents (64%) believe it is more important for them to volunteer at school now than before. A majority of parents (53%) plan to volunteer at their children's schools this year versus 44% last year — an increase of 20%. This trend is most pronounced among African American parents, 60% of whom plan to volunteer (up from 23% who say they volunteered last year).

Despite their strong interest in volunteering, however, parents may still remain an untapped resource. According to the report, nearly half (49%) list the lack of opportunities offered by teachers or schools among the main challenges they face to being more involved in their children's education.

A majority of parents agree that it's more important to volunteer at school, but they may not know how best to help.

61% agree, 39% disagree

The quality of education at my child's school will suffer because of cutbacks.

2. Parents are concerned about school cutbacks, and some are rethinking school choices

More than three in five parents (61%) believe the quality of education will suffer because of school cutbacks. Regardless of whether their children now attend public or private school, nearly one in four parents (24%) are rethinking the type of school their children should attend going forward. This trend is most prominent among lower-income urban and suburban parents.

Lack of education confidence and parents rethinking their children's school options are part of the backdrop of a challenging economic environment.

93 percent

Buy school supplies

75 percent

Adjust kids' sleep schedule

47 percent

Find out which subjects kids will be learning

39 percent

Have them start reading more

33 percent

Reduce TV and video game time

Activities parents do before the first day of school

3. Wake-up call to parents: Preparing for back to school involves more than shopping

Parents' best intentions do not always translate into best practices. Three-quarters or more make logistical plans — 93% plan to shop for school supplies — but fewer than half focus on academics or reducing distractions for their children. Only 47% find out which subjects their children will be learning, 39% have their kids start reading more often, and 33% cut down on TV and video games. Parents of older kids, as well as black and urban parents, say they do more of these preparatory activities before the first day of school.

Only one in three parents reduces the amount of TV or video game time before the first day of school.

57 percent

Reuse portions of last year's school supplies

26 percent

Delay buying supplies until after school starts

24 percent

Set a strict budget and stick to it

22 percent

Using the Web to find special offers

Cost-saving steps parents are planning this year

4. Parents are planning to shop smart

Most parents (74%) expect their economic situation to worsen or stay the same in the next six months. As a result, nearly 9 in 10 parents (88%) plan to take cost-saving steps when shopping for school supplies, including reusing old supplies and delaying purchases until after school starts to only buy necessities.

Nearly three in five parents plan to reuse last year's supplies or find cheaper ways to buy new ones.

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Comments from readers

"I think the posters on this site need a refresher course in grammer. More volunteers or not are schools are failing our children."
"I think your results of an increase in parent involvement this year could be attributed more to President Obama than to a poor economy, especially for the African American population."
"You don't say what state you are from. This is an issue that can be handled at the state level. Here in Iowa it's known as 'open enrollment'....a little paperwork and approval from the district you'd like to enter (routine) and your set to go. You must supply your childs transportation to and from the district however."
"Reading is very important and key to school success. I hope that parents across America took advantage of the library reading programs. Each child should have read at least 50 books this summer. It is also a great idea to start learning about the curriculum and academic and school expectations for kids. Parents can help children transition better when school is not their first introduction to some topics but rather a review"
"I think it was Bush that never did anything but his stupid TAKS and AYP."
"what ever happened to the promises the Presidents would make on passing a law that parents could choose what school district their child could attend? And with out having to live in the district? I am concerned because our school is not academically performing. I am not looking forward to my children going back to the same school. We shouldn't have to be forced to sell and move to another district just for a children to get a better education. We have even had difficulty with that process because of the economy. This is so upsetting to me."