Online Software Allows Parents to Closely Monitor Child's Progress

The days of kids hiding their less-than-stellar quiz and test grades from their parents may be over.

New online programs like ParentConnect allow parents to check their children's grades step by step — long before a report card is printed.

"If I do something wrong on a Friday, I wouldn't say anything till Sunday. But with ParentConnect, they can tell right away; so, there goes the weekend," said Simon Dobbins, a student in Alpharetta, Ga.

That's because ParentConnect gives Simon's parents direct access to his school records. Now, they can get a daily dose of his academic life delivered straight to their home computer.


"It's a great tool. I can go [online] on a daily basis and see what is going on," said Simon's mother, Nicole Dobbins, who uses the program to track all three of her children's progress. "Did the homework go from backpack to teacher's hand? It's about accountability for me."

The accountability goes a long way for Dobbins, who checks on her children's grades every morning, prints them out and highlights the good and the bad. She even leaves reminders on their beds.

"It's better for me to be equipped. Instead of saying, 'How was school?' I can say, 'I know how the test went. Good job.'"

But her son isn't as enthusiastic about the software.

"I hate it," Simon said. "It's not the best thing to come home to."

Simon's reaction is a dilemma for many parents around the country who are using profusion software tools to better track things like a student's class attendance, missed assignments, homework, quizzes, tests and even class rank. The technology has changed the way parents, teachers and students communicate with one another about educational progress.

Already 49 states use some form of software like ParentConnect, PowerSchool or similar programs that have become more commonplace during the last decade.

With the rise in the software's popularity among parents and administrators has come an increase in dissent among pupils. Hundreds of students have taken their gripes online to social networking sites like Facebook.

"My favorite is my mother's running tally of how many times I've been late to choir," one girl wrote.

"You can't imagine what it's like for your parents to be calling you in the middle of the night about your grades," one transfer student said.

And it's not just kids who are weary of the programs. At least one expert is worried the technological advance isn't an ace for students and teachers, but a hindrance that will lead helicopter parents to hover more, rather than give children the room they need to grow.

"I think it's crucial that youngsters are given enough autonomy so they can manage their own function at school and their performance. Using e-mail to track your child's daily progress in school undermines the type of trust a parent really needs to have with their child," said Elisabeth Guthrie, a Columbia University associate clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics.

So far the programs are so new that no studies show their possible benefits or drawbacks.

"What's critical is that parents use these online programs as tools to find out about the way their child is learning," said "Good Morning America" parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy. "If your child has worked hard and gets a B minus, but you come down on him for not getting an A, you're missing an opportunity to complement his hard work and to find out what it would take to get that A."

Murphy said a lot of research shows focusing only on grades and harping only on results is detrimental to a child's learning, but it's still critical for parents to remain involved and engaged in their child's education.

"If you're overly involved and breathing down your kids' neck -- believe me -- they are not going to share with you what's going on in other aspects of their lives. If you tear down their walls in schoolwork, they'll build big thick walls in other areas you want them to communicate with you about," she said. "The message this sends to kids is, 'I don't think you're mature or talented enough to handle your own schoolwork.' It's such a demoralizing and insulting message to send to a kid. If anything, the message has to be, 'I don't have to look over your shoulder every minute.'"