Just after 5 p.m. each weekday, my son’s School Loop notification arrives in my email inbox. Right up top is the “Dashboard,” which lists the grades he is getting in each class, as of this date. I can see if he’s holding steady in a certain classes, or if he’s gone up or down over the quarter, or even over the last few days.
"Wait!" I recently noticed. "What about that B earlier this week? It’s now a B—!" I make a note to bug him when he gets home from football practice
I also know whether or not he has homework, and if he has a quiz coming up.
Some of the moms from my son’s football team said they sit down with their sons each night, and go over the homework assignments their teachers have reported, via School Loop. These moms definitely liked being in the – well – loop.
Each told a familiar story of having a reasonably intelligent son who wasn’t always focused on school. In middle school, these boys would shrug off questions about homework. Unbeknownst to their parents in a pre-School Loop era, these boys would not do the assignments, or do them and -- for reasons only fathomable to young teenagers -- fail to turn them in. The parents would learn at the end of the quarter that their sons were scrambling to hold on to Cs or even Ds in a class.
The Acalanes Union High School District instituted School Loop this year at its four campuses, including Las Lomas High, where my son is a student. Other districts in the East Bay suburbs have likewise invested in this online application and use it in their elementary, middle and high schools. School Loop allows students, parents and teachers to view students’ grades online, view homework assignments and communicate with one another. Through School Loop, students can also electronically submit their work.
All my son’s teachers at Las Lomas' back-to-school night talked up School Loop. They all seemed to be eager users. At other schools, teachers’ failure to consistently post assignments and grades to School Loop has been a major problem with the application's effectiveness.
But other concerns come from some students and not-so-eager teachers who observe that School Loop adds to student stress and possibly hurts students' ability to learn self-sufficiency. They recount tales of parents, indulging in the worst excesses of helicopter parenting, using School Loop as a means to micromanage their kids’ homework and academic progress.
One high school teacher in the San Ramon Valley says she has students who regularly ask her to not post their latest grades on School Loop because they fear their parents will tear into them if their grades have slipped that week. She also questions how well students are learning to manage their own time -- a skill teenagers should be mastering before heading off to college and adult life. She furthermore sees students losing the ability to listen and take verbal directions if they figure they and their parents can check School Loop later that night. “When they’re working in real jobs, they won’t have bosses posting all their tasks for them," the teacher says.
“Face it, your parents may be addicted to School Loop.”
That’s the title of a March 2011 article published by a student at Monte Vista High in Danville.
“Stressing out about school is tough enough without parents adding to the pressure,” writes Camille Debreczeny. School Loop has exacerbated the problem, she quotes Monte Vista students and teachers as saying. It gives overly involved parents another excuse for becoming even more overly involved; parents may think they are helping but they are more likely breeding resentment and causing their kids to lose motivation, Debreczeny says.
She quotes a sophomore whose father sends him text messages as soon as he receives his School Loop emails by phone. Teachers, meanwhile, complain about parents who constantly pepper them with questions immediately after grades are posted. One teacher noted that grades fluctuate daily, causing parents to “lose sight of the big picture.” As the other teacher above noted, School Loop-obsessed parents are not helping their kids be better students, Debreczeny said.
“In college and beyond, their children are not always going to have someone around to help them," she says.
Of course, there was no such thing as School Loop around when any of us parents were in high school. I made note of my assignments in class, brought them home, got them done and turned them in. The system didn't seem too terribly complicated. I remember instances of having to "juggle" short- and long-term assignments: the math worksheet due the next day and the English paper due at the end of the quarter. I remember having to learn to pace myself with the longer-term assignments. I realized I couldn't take the intense anxiety of waiting until the night before to work on something I should have been working on all quarter.
Has assigning homework become more complicated in the 21st century? Especially since we now live in an era that reveres "multi-tasking" as perhaps the highest quality modern humans can possess.
I recently went on School Loop with my son because he said he wasn’t sure whether he had math homework, and claimed the teacher hadn’t made the assignment clear. Well, the assignment was right there. So, perhaps in this instance, School Loop had its uses.
But I’m also wary of any program that feeds into our non-stop obsession for numbers and data to validate so many aspects of our personal and professional lives. We measure a student’s worth by his SAT scores, and own our sense of value by how many Facebook friends we have, or how many people "liked" a particular Status Update.
With this blog, I can go to Google Analytics and constantly check each post’s page views and UVs. That’s kind of fun, I guess. At the same time, when I was at Patch, the higher-ups at some point started to only care about whether local editors were building our number of Facebook followers or UVs, not whether we were doing good journalism. That seems how many companies operate these days in our data-driven world.
I know it's not productive to monitor day-to-day fluctuations in my son’s grades. It probably wouldn't be helpful to translate my son's daily grades into a line chart for easier visualization. Like the rest of us, he's doing to have good days and bad days. Do I really need to follow each shift in those numbers -- in the same way, I confess, I was following fluctuations in poll numbers in the final days of the presidential election?
On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to become aware of a longer-term trend -- let's just say that his grade in a certain subject is starting to slip. If the teacher is consistent in posting assignments and grades, then my son and I can pinpoint where the problem lies: not turning in homework or not studying enough for tests. We -- or he -- can check in with the teacher on figuring out ways to bring his grade back up.
Well, this new high school numbers game will continue as long as his school uses School Loop. Maybe it's a good game to be playing, a good tool to have. I just hope parents, the schools and students will use it wisely.