Blessed Are the Innovators Who Help Us, the Confused Parents

Opinion |

Blessed Are the Innovators Who Help Us, the Confused Parents

By Alex Hernandez     Oct 6, 2014

Blessed Are the Innovators Who Help Us, the Confused Parents

As a teacher, my grading systems and assessments made so much sense to me. But as a parent, I’m often stumped by the question of “How are my own children doing in school?”

For example, my children’s elementary school report card offers scores of 1 (low) through 4 (high). I feel great when my kids receive 4’s, and I assume that 3’s mean everything is fine. And then the questions come, often from my wife, that I cannot answer:

What is the difference between a 3 and a 4? Our child received a 1 in [x]. Should I be worried? Or is this still in the range of normal child development?

Compared to other students across the country, do you think our kids are in the top 10%? Top 25%? Bottom 50%?

Do we think the grading is too easy? Too hard? Or just right? Were the assignments and tests challenging enough?

Did our kids work up to their potential this year?

Does our school have good academic programs? Are our children academically prepared for the next grade?

Each time, I shook my head and admitted I didn’t really know. “Let’s just ask the school,” I would respond.

At the parent-teacher conference following the January report card, we were told that our child earned a high grade in literacy (Yay!), but did not make any progress in reading over the prior five months (Un-yay). My confusion gave way to despair. How could we have known from the report card that our child made no growth as a reader? How many families had I thoroughly confused as an educator with my grading system?

I’d like to take a moment to point out that mankind is creating human organs with 3D printers and building robot cheerleader overlords. It should not be this hard for parents to support their children in school.

Schools and other education organizations can make families equal partners in their children’s learning by providing them with useful, easy-to-understand and actionable information. Make it simple for families to support their children in meaningful ways. Don’t confuse us--empower us.

As a result, blessed are the innovators who…

Help families observe their children’s growth and development.

My favorite parent-teacher conference of all time was when my child’s teacher walked us through three writing assignments that my child completed over the course of a year. It was like watching a flower bloom using time-lapse photography.

Organizations like FreshGrade are looking for new ways to make children’s learning more visible to families. My heart flutters when they talk about closing the “other” education gap--the gap between parents and the classroom.

AltSchool, a new for-profit organization that is trying to rebuild school from the ground up, is developing special cameras and microphones that allow teachers and families to see “magic moments” that occur for individual students in a busy classroom.

No more, “How was your day?” Now it’s, “You must be so proud of that speech you gave on volcanoes.”

Help families obtain educational second opinions when something doesn’t feel right.

Sometimes, when things are not going well for our children at school, it’s difficult for parents to know what to do, especially if they don’t feel like their concerns are being heard. With many assessments moving online, there is no reason why we can’t make educational “second opinions” directly available to families who want more information about their children.

My favorite “second opinion” right now comes in the form of standardized tests like the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP); these normed tests tell me how my children rank in various subjects compared to all their peers taking the same test. If my child is getting 3’s and 4’s in math on his report card and performs better than 87% of children his age in math on the standardized test, I feel really good about my kid, my child’s teacher and the school. But if my kid is getting all 4’s and scores better than only 32% of his peers (i.e. the 32nd percentile), all kinds of red flags go up for me.

Paired with my children’s report cards, this comparative data is one of the most useful independent sources of information available to me as a parent--even in all its glorious imperfection. I hope more online learning companies seize opportunities to make themselves trusted partners to families.

Help families read to their kids.

Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Success Academies, often says that the best thing a family can do is read to their children every night. That being said… can someone please build an app where I can enter a book that my child recently enjoyed and get ten more high-quality book recommendations at a similar reading level?

I’ll often use Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” feature as a stopgap, but I think this idea deserves its own app or widget that is made for families.

Children’s literature is amazing right now. We have the technology. No more excuses. Extra credit if you can automatically reserve the book at the local library.

I’m an early adopter of new ways to support my children’s learning. The Latin term is parente helicopterus. But I’ve never met a parent or guardian who wasn’t doing the best they know how for their children.

Design solutions for families. Help us become equal partners in supporting our children’s learning.

Editor's Note: Alex Hernandez is an EdSurge Columnist. He works for the Charter School Growth Fund. Charter School Growth Fund is a philanthropic supporter of Success Academies.

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