The modern classroom is packed with digital technology that can record students’ academic performance in real time, as well as keep track of their attendance, assignments and more. All that data isn't just changing the classroom and the job of teachers. It's changing the role of parents, who are being asked to do more to keep up and keep tabs on their kids.
On a recent night at High Tech Los Angeles, a charter high school in Van Nuys, California, a group of parents got a lesson in just what that means. One of them was Nooneh Kradjain, who has two sons at the high school, and was busy scribbling notes. She said she was struck by how much things have changed since she was in school. “My parents just looked at the report card when it came home and said ‘good job, let’s go out to dinner.”
These days, being a school parent is more like a part-time job.
With so much access to information about their kids’ academic performance, parents are expected to be up on what’s happening. It’s on them now to know if their kids may be headed off track after flubbing a test or missing a homework assignment.
Mat McClenahan is a teacher at High Tech Los Angeles. He says the school needs parents as allies. “What we’re trying to do is develop learners who have the right habits to be successful in college and be successful in the workplace,” he says. “And that means to be on top of the workflow.”
McClenahan says he’s not trying to turn parents into surveillance machines, and they should resist the urge themselves. “The parents often feel like they have to be on top of everything that’s going on,” he says. “We have parents that check their child’s grades several times a day.”
Even if parents don’t go overboard, all the focus on grades and scores worries Alfie Kohn, who has written several books on parenting and education, including "The Myth of the Spoiled Child" says parents"are often asked to become the enforcer of the schools agenda.” “The more schools are encouraging parents to think about grades and tests and homework assignments, the more danger there is that meaningful learning will be eclipsed," he says.
And all that keeping up and keeping track can do a number on parents, too.
Kathy Gadany, who also attended the meeting for parents, has a freshman at High Tech Los Angeles. “Oh, Lord,” she said. "Now, I have to keep an eye on my kids much more so over the internet instead of just nagging them for their homework.”
And, then, there are the objects of all this attention: the kids. Nooneh Kradjain, the mother whose parents used to take her out to dinner after a good report card, says her kids have asked her to trust them enough not to check their grades all the time.
She says she gets their point of view, but she also understands the lure of micro-managing a child’s education today.
“It’s a lot more competitive and there’s a lot more at stake,” she says and, trust or not, she’s not going to give up all of her digital oversight.
Kradjain is still going to log in to the school’s college-application program, to make sure her older son gets all his paperwork in on time.