Power School: Friend or Foe?

For those parents with a child attending a school with the Power School program, my opinion is mixed in terms of how ‘helpful’ it actually is.

Power School is a web-based student information system which recognizes the importance of connecting home with school.  Power School gives parents and students access to real-time information.

One website description states: According to “recent survey results”, parents use the web to become more involved in their children’s progress.  With Power School’s easy-to-use tools, parents can access secure student information online including: grades, assignment descriptions, school information, attendance and much more.

Each family receives a log-in and password to access their student’s progress and information at their convenience.

Sounds good in theory, right?  With only one or two parent-teacher conferences each year, having fast and frequent access to your child’s grades is a welcome option.  And while we worry about how much access to information our children have online, we are quick to log in and ‘see’ how things are progressing in the classroom.  After all, our kids usually answer the “How was your day?” question with “Fine.” and “Do you have any homework?” with “No.”  What’s the harm in checking in to see what is really happening at school?

I completely understand the intended purpose of Power School and think that it provides a valuable tool to many families.  However, I also see a variety of problems with the system.

  • Depending on your child, you may be more likely to check Power School (PS) on a consistent basis.  Indeed, kids who want their parents to back off and not check PS so much are often the same kids who behave in a manner that drives their parents to check in so much.  For example, a bright middle school student has difficulties organizing his work and often misses assignments or forgets to hand in his work.  As a result, his teachers enter zeros into various columns of PS and his current grade is listed as a “D” or “F.”  Logging in and seeing this grade and “missed assignment” in red ink is not going to get mom or dad to stop checking anytime soon.
  • In fact, Power School actually reinforces a parent to check when the information is negative such as missed work.  Parents who log in to see that all work is handed in and the child’s grades are A’s and B’s is less likely to see a need to consistently check.
  • Power School generally turns parents into an anxious mess.  The system has its flaws, especially the fact that timing issues can often cause a reaction about a missed assignment that your child may have handed in between the time you logged in and the time the assignment was added into the system.  This way, when you are confronting your child about the missed work, he or she is trying to convince you that it has been handed in, and you can’t trust this.  Some teachers are quicker than others when it comes to updating work completed.

I acknowledge that Power School can be an effective tool, especially if you need to review attendance and tardy history.  Further, there may be isolated moments of grade or homework completion confusion that can be easily clarified with a quick log in.

For families dealing with a child who is having difficulties with planning, organization, and assignment/homework completion I suggest considering the following:

For Middle School Children:

Establish a Homework Schedule-The child knowing when homework will be completed each day is helpful.  Allowing a fun activity to serve as a reward upon completion makes the hard work worthwhile.  Setting a block of time each night based on general amount of homework prevents the child from rushing.  For example, you set a one hour block for homework each night because your child generally has 30 minutes of work.  If your child finishes work quickly, they can read a book or review their homework until the hour is over.  This way, they understand there is no rush to complete work…the fun activity will have to wait regardless.

Don’t Hover Over Your Child During Homework-This is called ‘helicopter parenting.’  This is the same reason why many of the new generation of college students’ parents are calling professors on campus to complain about their child’s grades or the unfairness of a test.  Where does your child’s problem-solving and independence come from when you are always there to micromanage, review, check, correct, and battle with teachers?  If I had called my parents to complain about a bad test grade, their response would have been “work harder!’ not “Give me that teacher’s number, I’m gonna give them a piece of my mind!”

If You Must Check your Child’s Work-Be sure to note the correct items first.  Too often, we zone in on the errors and don’t focus on what the child is doing well.  Keep their confidence up whenever possible, especially during this age!

For High School Children:

Encourage Your Child to Check Power School on his/her own and then also establish a time you will log on (preferably with them) to review progress.  This way, your child knows when assignments must be turned in and can coordinate with teachers to have the information updated on Power School prior to parental review (another important step on the road to independence-advocating for oneself and problem-solving with adults other than parents!).  I usually recommend parents review Power School every other Wednesday of the month.  Weekends need to be enjoyable and logging on to potentially see bad news is a bad idea.  The middle of the week gives the child enough time in the beginning of the week to catch up and enough time at the end of the week to make up work.

Back Off! If your child does not have any learning difficulties or associated concerns that would require more support and intervention, then your best approach is to let your child handle school difficulties on their own while you focus on responsibilities and rules of the home such as curfew, cell phone/electronics use, etc.  If after a decent period of time (i.e., one quarter), your child continues to struggle in school then a professional consult may be warranted to rule out learning or emotional contributions to the sustained difficulties in school.

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