I've been working with several officials of local schools as well as the PAUSD regarding the inconsistent & infrequent use of InClass by teachers.
Only two of my child's teachers are currently using InClass. For the remaining courses, I can't tell when my child is falling behind until it's too late. Also, I can't make decisions about whether my son should go have fun on the weekend because I don't know what is impending for the following week.
In lengthy discussions with school teachers, school administrators and school board members, district officials (PAUSD and others), I have found that:
1. PAUSD has had InClass (powered by Blackboard Academic Suite) since Fall 2004. (The pilot project was conducted by Paula Hundle in Spring 2004.)
1. Administrators have no way to mandate use of InClass. This is because the teachers' job requirements are negotiated in a contract with the Teachers' Union. The current contract (signed last month) has no requirement for teachers to use InClass. So a school principal cannot tell a teacher that he/she *has* to use InClass.
2. San Jose Unified, Santa Clara Unified, Cupertino and Los Gatos all mandate that grades must be posted to a parent-accessible online system every Friday. When I cited this data to a district official, the response I received was that Palo Alto was different because we are close to Stanford, and the Palo Alto teachers have higher expectations of "academic freedom." [Wow.]
3. Everybody agrees that the InClass system has limitations and does not work well. Los Gatos parents are quite satisfied with their system (known as Aries).
4. The school superintendent has not responded to a single email on the subject, whether from me or from board members.
Many teachers use InClass successfully. Many, however, complain that it does not work properly, that it is not secure, but most of all they say that they "just don't use it."
Teachers who do not use InClass usually respond that they are very good about responding promptly to questions via email. (Incidently, PAUSD rules require that teachers respond to such requests in a reasonable time and "reasonable" is normally defined to be 24 hours.) In the last 3 months, I have given school & district officials no fewer than 8 examples where I have not gotten a response from teachers for over 5 working days.
The reasons I've heard for not using InClass are below. My rebuttals are in parentheses.
1. We've been educating children in schools for 200 years [sic] without InClass, so you shouldn't need it. (This was from a teacher. I wonder what she'd say if her doctor decided to do without CAT scans for the same reason. Also, isn't this why we have progress?)
2. Children are supposed to do this work themselves without parental supervision. It's an opportunity for them to grow. (Agreed that children should do this work themselves. However, everyone in corporate America is accountable to someone -- or should be. And parents need this info to hold their children accountable.)
3. I just don't use InClass. (Just use InClass -- many of your peers do.)
4. InClass is not secure and can be hacked. (Well, then post grades for those students where the student and his/her parents give you a signed waiver.)
5. We're working on it. (Yes, but you've been working on it since 2004 and it's still not implemented.)
The lack of online access to grades and scores in a location where Yahoo, Google, PayPal, E*Trade, Xerox Parc, etc. were born, would be ironic and shocking to those not familiar with the issues of public education. We are blocked by administrators and unions. Who speaks for the children and their futures?
It's likely that the only way to get PAUSD to implement a regularly updated, parent-accessible notification system for grades, test scores and pending evaluations is public input/uproar. I hope to submit a [long] list of signatures to the school board, highlighting the depth of feeling about this issue.
If you are a parent of a PAUSD student, I invite you to join me in this effort. My motivation is simple: I've lost one child's future to not having this information and I don't want to lose any more.
I've started a Yahoo Group: pausd_fix_inclass to foster communication among PAUSD parents. Please circulate this among your friends who are parents of PAUSD.
bhateja -at- yahoo -dot- com
[To email me, replace the -at- and -dot- fields above with the obvious replacements.]