When I was a boy, four days were set aside each year for my parents to scream, threaten and wail tearfully. Well, Mom cried. My father, like many men, was born without tear ducts, although he could come close to breaking down during a really emotional event, like losing a wager on a late touchdown pass or being exposed to a conversation about astrology.
Those four days were when quarterly report cards came home. Or days soon after that, when my mom said, "Stop making up @#$%$#@ stories about how your teacher is in the hospital having her gizzard removed and bring me the envelope." FYI, a gizzard is a poultry part, not a "lady part."
For the previous nine weeks I would have knitted a veritable full-body cardigan of lies along the lines of: "I finished my papier-mâché rendition of the universe at school," "It's not the kind of test you can really study for, per se," and "My teacher is a cult member who believes homework is the devil's dictation."
But it would all crash in a wave of F's, an occasional Z ("Giving Lane an F wouldn't adequately express the level of his laziness") and insincere promises to "do better."
How times have changed.
Thanks to a new feature of the Smithtown school district's parent-portal website, my daughter gets a report card every day. We (actually my wife, who handles all our portaling) can check our daughter's performance in every class in real time.
Forget helicopter parenting. This is "encase her in a fully zipped-up sleeping bag and sit on her chest until she studies her Spanish verbs" parenting.
Every assignment, test and quiz result, future test and project date is listed. The entirety is tabulated into a running grade for each course.
It's a huge breakthrough for parents looking for new ways to obsess, and leads to fun-filled conversations like this: "I was looking at the portal and Jenny's social studies grade slipped to an A-minus around 1 p.m. I bet she confused Magellan and Cortes again. Also, her average in PE dropped a point. She says she doesn't want to head soccer balls, because when she does her eyes cross and she can't count past 11. But I'm sick of the excuses."
The running report card is becoming pretty common nationally and on Long Island, according to experts, and it's useful. In our case, for example, my wife realized through the portal that our daughter had missed an assignment while we were on a family trip. She was then able to make up the work. That's a great tool. It's a shame more students and parents won't access the help such portals provide.
We have again devised a way to help parents and students deeply concerned about school performance. That's good news, assuming that compulsive checking can be kept within the bounds of sanity.
But it shows our inability to deal with the real problems in education. The parents and students who are deeply concerned with schooling tend to have good outcomes no matter what tools they have or lack.
The kids growing up with less support and less concern, who have less motivation to excel and less oversight to assure they do, are the real challenges in our schools.
It's mostly not the teachers or how they're evaluated. It's not too much testing or too little. It's not standards that are too high or too low. And it's not our ability or inability to check our kids' academic progress minute by minute. It's the parents who fail to check, or lack the skills to address the situation when they know there is a problem, who present a problem technology cannot fix.