A survey of about 400 parents of New Jersey school children conducted by the nonprofit JerseyCAN revealed some of the particular ways those parents believe their kids' education can be improved as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to wane.

However, further focus groups and polls may be needed to specify the changes parents want to see made to the Garden State's educational structure overall, according to JerseyCAN senior advisor Janellen Duffy.

What parents told JerseyCAN was not surprising, Duffy said, but she added it was encouraging to have them articulate some of the things they feel their children need.

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"They want to see more instructional time, they want to see more tutoring, just overall greater academic supports for their students," Duffy said.

In the poll, a wide majority (80%) of parents felt statewide testing was still important, as just over 4 in 10 (41%) believed their kids had fallen behind in math during the pandemic, and slightly less than 3 in 10 (29%) said the same about reading.

New Jersey worked hard to close the "digital divide" when learning went remote, but Duffy said the lessons the state learned from bringing underserved communities up to speed need to be maintained going forward.

"I think what that means is now we have to think about, what are the opportunities that that presents, now that there is a greater supply of technology in students' hands?" she said.

Technology figures to play a role in cultivating individualized learning plans, one of the few specifics the parents offered up when coming to a consensus about "bold changes" being made to New Jersey school systems.

JerseyCAN's #NJKidsCantWait parent initiative, launched last August, could be one tool used to identify further parent proposals, building on what they think are their kids' most pressing areas of need.

"Are there ways to change school schedules or school calendars to think about how we really maximize instruction time for students?" Duffy asked.

Most parents agreed on one thing: Nearly two-thirds (63%) believe new funding should be put toward these "bold changes," whatever they might be.

Considering the up-close look parents got at their children's schooling in the remote learning era, the Kids Can't Wait platform is designed to "really try to keep them involved and informed and engaged as we undertake this massive effort to get kids back on track academically," Duffy said.

Duffy hopes further polling, either at the end of the current school year or before the beginning of the next, will provide clearer answers.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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