Monday, May 5, 2008


The New York Times has an excellent article about online web tools for teachers to communicate with parents. Though my Little Man and my Boo aren't old enough for school, let alone not turning in homework and failing grades, I am interested in the whole phenomenon for two reasons. One: I'm a teacher. Two: Parenting seems to be all about control.

A profusion of online programs that can track a student’s daily progress, including class attendance, missed assignments and grades on homework, quizzes and tests, is changing the nature of communication between parents and children, families and teachers. With names like Edline, ParentConnect, Pinnacle Internet Viewer and PowerSchool, the software is used by thousands of schools, kindergarten through 12th grade. PowerSchool alone is used by 10,100 schools in 49 states.

In rural, urban and suburban districts, they have become a new fact of life for thousands of families. At best, the programs can be the Internet’s bright light into the bottomless backpack, an antidote for freshman forgetfulness, an early warning system and a lie detector.


Depending on the software, parents can check pending assignments; incomplete assignments; whether a child has been late to class; discipline notices; and grades on homework, quizzes and tests as soon as they are posted. They can also receive e-mail alerts on their cellphones.

With some programs, not only is a student’s grade recalculated with every quiz, but parents can monitor the daily fluctuations of their child’s class ranking. The availability of so much up-to-the-minute information about a naturally evasive teenager can be intoxicating: one Kansas parent compared watching PowerSchool to tracking the stock market.

As a teacher, I have heard tales of a spate of over-intervention of parents. I don't see it too often in my own job. I have seen instances of it at the grad school level, where students will have their parents try to intervene with the professor to get a grade change (SERIOUSLY?!! You are an adult. You get to vote. Grow up!)

But the thing that is terrible about such programs is that it disempowers the kids and takes the responsibility for their success off of them. Sure, I want Johnny to turn in his work. I want Johnny's mom to help. What I don't want is Johnny's Mom to walk his work to my classroom at 7:20 AM because Johnny himself can't be organized enough not to lose it or to forget it.

Also, knowing a kid's grade minute-by-minute seems to lead you to a non-macro understanding of how well a kid is actually doing. It's a snapshot, in the same way that standardized tests are snapshots, of how a kid is doing at a given point in time. If they are spiraling downward, then yeah, intervene. But seriously? There are worse things than failing a class in 3th grade AND sometimes that failure is a good wake up for a kid.

I do understand the other hand though. The desire to control every aspect of what a kid does in order to make the outcome work out to the kid's maximum potential. And I catch myself doing it as a mom.

With Little Man crawling all over, I feel like this is the end of an chapter in his life. From this point on, it's a continual slow acquiescence of control by the parent. And it should be.

What I want most for my children is that they be self-reliant, competent, loving, and confident beings. Independence is a necessary component of that, but it means I can't fix it all and make it go right, not that I ever could.

I'm sure by the time my two are in school, I'll be foaming at the mouth for more information, more interaction, more control. But I hope to remember that independence is necessary too.

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