The Home-School Connection: Making the Right Choice for Students, Parents and Schools

##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->Picture a school district with a warehouse of data, including teachers’grades, free and reduced-price lunch participants, and overdue library booklistings, drawn from various systems. Think about various companiesindependently seeking this information from staff, parents and students, andforming different warehouses of data out somewhere in an uncontrollable “e-world.”It makes no sense. The schools have the only accurate and up-to-dateinformation. Why should parents, students and staff spend extra time to send itto a cyberspace warehouse that acts independently of the schools? It’sinefficient and risky.


Americanschools are in a dot-com revolution. But some parents and educators areconcerned that companies are moving so fast to secure their own financialsuccess that it could result in the wrong home-school connection choice foryoung students. The potential of home-school portals for our public schools isextremely positive, and this connection can be one of the most promisinge-commerce ventures. It represents a wonderfully exciting vehicle for improvingeducation and education services. However, it won’t just happen by itself.


We don’tneed to build thousands of information warehouses made up of disjointed,incomplete school information that has limited value for managing schools andimproving instruction. School leaders need to take the initiative to definepolicies and strategies that will lead to business partnerships that revolvearound the districts’ and the schools’ needs.


Parent and Student Privacy Rights

Schoolsand school districts have always been keepers and protectors of instructional,as well as support services information. While public records laws in moststates make most information available to the public, they do exclude specificinformation and generally provide a reasonable process and timeline forresponse. Also, student information is protected under both state and federalprivacy legislation. The advent of the Internet d'esn’t remove theresponsibility of the schools as the overseers of school information; it simplymakes it more complicated and important.


Schoolsmust take the initiative to define policies and strategies that best servechildren, parents and staff. They must continue to assure the collection, flow,validation, and dissemination of data. You need to know what data are leavingyour schools, to whom that information is going, and how it’s being used. TheInternet d'es not eliminate the responsibility to live up to the privacyinformation requirements of the law, or the expectations of staff, students andparents. The interests and rights of parents and young people must takepriority in the home-school connection.


Guideline Questions to Connect By

To ensurethat schools receive the optimum Internet connection for parents and students,school leaders must seek out companies that are responsive to their uniqueneeds. Here is a suggested checklist for school administrators to use inchoosing the best e-products and services:


1     Get It In Writing: Is the company willing tosign a contract with your schools or school district, spelling out in detailwhat it will and will not do? For example, a list of school services should bevery detailed, and extension of service to homes should be optional. You shouldreceive a listing of benefits.

2     Support the Mission: D'es the company’sproduct or service support the school district’s educational mission? If so,how? It should provide administrators, teachers, students and parents withinformation that supports and guides teaching and learning. It shouldstreamline decision-making by providing accurate, up-to-date information for suchfunctions as planning, budgeting, and reporting in the various instructionaland support service areas.

3     Support the Parents: D'es the company have anadequate parent support system? It should give parents the tools to interactwith school systems from home, saving time and improving accuracy. The systemshould also include recognized news services and interactive pages througheducational links and resources, including the school library.

4     Help the Staff: D'es the product or servicerequire additional effort or impose new requirements on school staff? Recognizethat the vendor’s expertise is needed at the time of installation, to assurethat the system is set up properly and securely. After setup, the vendor shouldmonitor performance. An optimal system connects directly to installedapplications, and requires only occasional assistance onsite, with no need toupdate information manually. Additional services that require daily maintenance(i.e., Internet or telephone-based lunch orders, or electronic tickets forschool activities) should be optional for each school.

5     Increase Productivity: D'es theproduct or service enhance the productivity of school administrators, teachers,or students? Look for features such as interoperability, less redundant inputthrough use of the same data across applications, Web-browser-based trendreports across different applications, and e-mail alerts for administrators.

6     Who Benefits? Are there economic benefits andincentives? If so, who will receive them and how will they be distributed? Onemodel that is particularly beneficial to schools includes deep discounts onproductivity software through sponsor participation in Web and telephonyextensions. Only the school district receives shared e-commerce and local sponsorrevenues. There are no special incentives for teachers or administrators.Students receive rewards from sponsors for their participation in Web andtelephony-based promotions, consistent with guidelines set by an advisorycommittee, to minimize commercialism.

7     Sponsors’ Role: What is the appropriate focus onsponsors? A vendor’s advisory committee (which should include leadingeducators) should regulate commercial sponsors’ participation. Rather than use sponsorbrand names, optional public service posters promoting positive behavior anduse of student participation cards can be used as incentives without overtcommercialism. Parents should have the option for their children not to beexposed to commercial content. Participation in sponsor-supported Web ortelephony extensions should be strictly voluntary.

8     Data Integration: Are the data integratedand interoperable? For accuracy and ease of integration, each school’sadministrative systems and official records should be the source of data andinformation in a cross-platform, comprehensive system.

9     Data Security: Are the data secure? For optimaldata security, the system should prevent direct access to sensitive informationor applications. The school district should be able to distribute and maintainpasswords. To protect privacy, all users are validated with official schooldata, and must log in each time. Individual data is distributed only tostudents, parents and guardians entitled to receive it. No individual datashould be sold or re-used for any other purposes.

10Access for All: Is the system available to allstudents? The company should work with the schools in providing equal accesswithout regard to economic status. Link services should be provided to allhouseholds by personal computer or toll-free touch-tone telephone.

11Vendor Experience: The company, its officersand advisory committee should have extensive knowledge and expertise in workingwith staff, students and parents in elementary and middle schools.

12Long-term Commitment: Thecompany should demonstrate a long-term commitment to meet your specific needs.This includes a highly customizable system to meet school needs, and a networkof local resources to assist.

Ask thetough questions to get the best school-home connection for parents andstudents. The time and effort required will yield a comprehensive system thatsupports and advances education.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.