I have no clue what’s going on…
I’ve always assumed that part of the reason I have no clue what is going on at my daughters’ schools is that we’re in separate households. It’s becoming clearer that no, it’s not that. Our local school system is just pretty awful at communicating with parents….I mean, really, really bad…so bad, you second guess yourself and, as in my case, go into the school offices multiple times every year to make sure that this time they really do have my contact information.
It turns out, I think, that they have always had my contact information. Over the years, as I have talked to other parents, some in the same position as I am, the schools just don’t contact any parents. This appears to be a systemic problem because it’s been true of every school my kids have attended locally: elementary, middle and high. I suspect it’s a partly a technical issue, but also a training, cultural and possibly even legal issue.
It’s incredibly frustrating.
With that said, and before I say any more, I absolutely recognize that my local schools having been struggling with budget issues for years and positions have been eliminated as teachers and administrators are asked to do more with less. I would also say that teachers and staff have generally been very friendly and helpful in person when I’ve needed to talk to them. They are good people doing a difficult job.
What are my expectations as a parent?
Sure, it is hyperbole to say that schools want parents to stay ignorant. However, in my experience members of institutions tend to forget how intimidating and incomprehensible their environments, habits, and language can be. I remember that when I came to the US originally to study, I did not understand the difference between “Registration” and “Application” to a college. It’s completely obvious to someone who is part of the system and was brought up here, but was mystifying from my “plain English” point of view.
The other part of this, especially if one didn’t go through the local school system, is that as parents (and students), we only get to experience the education system once or twice, but teachers and administrators do this every year.
Parenthetically, at work (in the IT department of the Community College System), I’ve been commiserating recently with other staff about how hard it is to get through the registration process. We are supposed to be experts, but it’s just mystifying sometimes.
The paradox of this all is that parental involvement is supposed to critical to student success. It’s something we are told at meetings, but in practice, it doesn’t happen as it should.
Many schools want parents the same way they want students. Quiet, complicit, seen & not heard #HipHopEd
— Christopher Emdin (@chrisemdin) May 13, 2015
What really do I expect?
- I expect regular emails about key events, with links to full explanations of what they are and why.
- I expect the materials distributed at events to be made available online (in advance preferably).
I think one of the elements missing in the communications I do get via email is the integration of web content. Like too many institutions, there are always attachments, rather than links to online materials, and the big picture of how specific events fit into my daughters’ lives is missing. The school web site is obviously maintained by individuals to the best of their ability, but it’s uncoordinated, hit or miss in terms of content, and jargon goes unexplained.
Paper Misses 25% of Households
According to the best information I can find, in my county, about 25% of children were in a single Head of Household in 2010. In effect this means that for 25% of families at least one parent stands a very good chance of not being in the loop at all, especially when critical communications are sent as paper. Kids are notorious for losing pieces of paper, but even when things are mailed, they are not being seen by everyone who matters.
With that said, even if parents in same household, both should get electronic notifications and those notifications should be coordinated with paper communications.
One of the more bizarre things that seems to keep happening is that the school doesn’t even notify parents of when school starts. Unless one can work it out from the various calendars, it is easy to miss something as crucial as that.
Another deep frustration is the timing of communications. One year, I received a paper communication in the mail months after my daughter failed an SOL. Why couldn’t I have received an email as soon as it was known, laying out (the complicated) retake options, with the remediation opportunities and a checklist of what to do?
On a daily basis, I’d like the grading system to send me an immediate email the moment my kid gets a zero on a graded assignment. I’d assume this would most often be when they failed to hand something in. This is the kind of behavior that it’s useless to know about 8 weeks later. Timeliness matters. In fact, any unexpected event should be communicated to parents automatically and immediately, e.g. zero on test, a schedule change, detention, extra study, progress reports, grading period information.
Why isn’t there an email to welcome new students to the school with all the information they need? No. You have to go to a meeting a watch PowerPoint presentations instead.
Emails about registration. Nope.
Emails about orientation. Nope.
Emails about progress in building a new school. Nope!
I’d like to hear from the principal once a week at least on what’s going on.
So, what do we have?
- no communication – no information sent via email or paper at all.
- poor communication – the newsletter is a mish-mash all in a big PDF file–I can’t think of anything more useless. Newsletters make sense on paper, but in a digital age, they don’t. There is no digital cost to communicating about individual events.
- communication to one parent.
Evaluation Drives Behavior
The unfortunate, but very clear, lesson of the State Standards of Learning, and Federal standards is that evaluation drives behavior. If something is considered important, it is evaluated and plans for improvement are developed.
- How are schools evaluated? Actually, I have no idea. The school board doesn’t document this. The schools themselves don’t document this. Parents are not asked for feedback on how the school is doing.
- How are teachers evaluated? I have no idea. There is no documentation.
- Why isn’t a measure of parental involvement a “Standard of Learning” for all schools in the state? It’s critical to success. School boards need to measure it, and schools need to measure it, and it needs to be improved.
- Why can’t parents be surveyed electronically every 9 weeks (the report schedule) about how their school is doing?
- Given how things have gone with my kids and even with my own experience, another question I’d like schools to keep track of: Does my child enjoy learning? Are they curious?
I started this post two years ago. Needed to finish it. The thoughts are bit unpolished still.