When teachers got report cards

By Michael Huston
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Gone are the days of sprinting home on report card day to snatch that incriminating document from the mail before it can ever reach the hands of Mom and Dad. No longer can junior high students try to secretively erase the answering machine before a message can ever be played that begins, "During school today, your son/daughter was not present ..."

In fact, all sorts of information about grade school students is now just one click away from their parents, via the Internet-based parental-access system that the Tucson Unified School District has implemented.

The Arizona Daily Star describes the system as "an online network that allows parents to track attendance and grades and e-mail teachers," and says that at some schools "parents can even check what their kids buy for lunch."

The system is designed to make it easier for parents to monitor their children's progress and activity at school, and it comes at a time when accountability in education is increasing across the board.

For years, those in the educational community have insisted that parents must take a more active role in the education of their children. This new system will give parents an opportunity to do just that with a level of convenience that has never been seen before.

Parents and teachers have an obligation to work together to ensure that each child is receiving the best education possible. For too long in our country, underperforming students and underperforming schools, especially those that are predominantly nonwhite, have fallen through the cracks in the system.

It was under the guise of correcting just such a problem that President Bush and his administration passed the No Child Left Behind Act. The White House's Web site states the official purpose of the act is ensuring that "testing, accountability and higher standards will join with record new funding to help ensure educational excellence for every child."

Whatever the act's successes and failures have been or will be in the future, it has, if nothing else, increased the notion that educators are accountable to the public, and apparently, this notion is increasing the participation of parents in the system.

The Star reports that Debbie Summers, principal of Utterback Middle Magnet School, says, "The whole accountability system has awakened an interest in education that we hadn't seen for a while."

Here in Arizona, a state which has long fallen near the bottom nationally in terms of education spending and results, a new set of provisions are set to take affect that will make hiring standards for teachers among the most grueling in the nation.

Although some question the wisdom of raising standards in a system that is already desperate for teachers, it is important that we ensure that every teacher in every classroom is both competent and capable.

The desire for greater accountability in education has apparently also led parents to seek other options for their children. Enrollment in Tucson's regular public schools has dropped in recent years as more parents have enrolled their children in charter or nontraditional schools.

Whereas in the past, the only real option for parents who were dissatisfied with the system was home schooling, there is now an entire series of schools all over the country who promise greater parent involvement and more personal student attention.

Obviously though, it should be the goal of our nation to create a public school system that can offer an excellent academic experience to every student, and where parents can be confident that their children are on a path to success.

Legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act requires appropriate funding to make it work, however, and it's likely that education will soon be once again subject to federal spending cuts as the government attempts to reallocate funds to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In spite of this, though, the school system must still continue to develop its relationship with the parents of the students that it serves. Internet-based systems like the one TUSD has established will make it easier for parents and teachers to accomplish that partnership, and better communication is a vital step in moving American education forward.

Whatever education reform may occur, ensuring that public schools remain accountable to parents and communities will help to create an educational system that really can prevent kids, especially the poorest ones, from ever being left behind. Our children deserve nothing less.

Michael Huston is a sophomore majoring in political science and philosophy. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.