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Do schools share too much with parents?

By Allison Gilbert, Special to CNN
Thanks to school-funded technology, parents can track their child's grades, assignments and progress online.
Thanks to school-funded technology, parents can track their child's grades, assignments and progress online.
  • Some teachers use technology to help parents track their child's progress
  • Online programs have expanded so parents can now conduct full academic surveillance
  • Some students feel this is an invasion of privacy and causes tensions at home
  • Education
  • Family
  • Parenting

(CNN) -- Are schools creating a new breed of helicopter parent?

Teacher Terri Reh wants parents to monitor their children's entire educational career online.

"I post all my students' responsibilities, their current and upcoming assignments, and timelines for every project they have," says the teacher at Flagstaff Academy in Longmont, Colorado. "I also post messages detailing the status of homework, whether it's missing, late, or incomplete."

Reh refers to herself as her school's "biggest technology adopter," and recently won a statewide award for her efforts.

Unlike many teachers across the country who use school-funded technology to help middle and high school students track their own work online, Reh uses it to target parents. Her students are in third grade.

"Anything we can do to engage parents is what we need to do. Kids do better in school when mom and dad are involved," Reh says.

Reh also has a website highlighting her daily classroom schedule and invites parents to subscribe to her Twitter feed so they can follow her activities in and out of the classroom.

Patricia Davis' daughter is in Reh's class. The mother of twins enjoys going on Infinite Campus, the centralized computer system Flagstaff uses, any time of the day or night.

"I use it to make sure my daughter's assignments are done and to check her overall grades. I've sometimes caught mistakes when the grade online doesn't reflect the grade I know she earned, but when I've brought these errors to the teacher's attention, she's corrected them every time."

Student management systems, as they are known in the educational world, began trickling into U.S. schools about 10 years ago. They are now so popular Ann Flynn, director of Education Technology at the National School Boards Association, considers their use "commonplace."

In its latest study released last year, the educational marketing company Market Data Retrieval concluded that 97% of all districts it surveyed have "substantially or fully implemented" some sort of student data management system.

Indeed, online programs have expanded to such a degree parents can now conduct full academic surveillance.

Much of this e-hovering happens in real-time without the need for a child to share potentially disappointing news at the dinner table. If your son gets a C on a quiz, you could get pinged with an automated e-mail before he gets home from school and can tell you himself.

Carol Bengle Gilbert (no relation to author) wants none of it. The Maryland mother of three children ages 16, 13 and 11 says the amount of information coming at her is out of control and unnecessary.

She says her children's teachers not only post assignments and due dates, they also list the percentage each assignment is worth toward final grades.

When questions come up about how her kids are doing in school, teachers have assumed she's been following along online.

"I tell them flat out, I don't do that. I don't think it's normal to be so involved. It creates an unhealthy relationship between parents and their kids. I think kids resent it. My job as a parent is to teach them how to do things on their own. I don't want to be that kind of policeman in my house."

On, the George Lucas Educational Foundation website, kids have been vocal for years about wanting more autonomy in school.

One child complained on a discussion board, "Every single time a teacher entered a grade incorrectly, I had a missing assignment, or something else bringing my grade in a certain class down, it was hell at home. I began to stress more over my parents' reaction to grades than the actual grades."

Another student railed, "My mom now seems like the enemy."

Christopher Daddis, an expert in adolescent-parent relationships and associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, says while children almost always get better grades when parents participate in their education, kids run into emotional trouble if they feel micromanaged.

"When parents exert too much control, children can become depressed and have increased levels of anxiety."

Tensions also bubble up when students feel blindsided. Daddis says parents who choose to keep tabs on their children's schoolwork remotely must come clean.

"It's important to recognize that parents have the upper hand like never before. They can know something a child hasn't shared and catch them in a lie.

"Parents need to inform their children that they are going online, and tell them honestly why they feel they need to do so. They should never go behind their child's back."

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